Pranayama (breathing practice) series: Kapalabhati

KAPALABATHI is one of the Pranayama exercises (breathing practice) practised during yoga sessions or during a private practice.

” ‘Kapala’ means skull and ‘bhati’ means shining = ‘Kapalabathi’ is considered to be so cleansing to the entire system that, when practised on a regular basis the face shines with good health and radiance. “

Although a breathing exercise, Kapalabathi is technically one of the ‘kriyas‘ (cleansing techniques).


~ Cleanses the nasal passage, lungs and the entire respiratory system
~ Strengthens and increases the capacity of the lungs and intercostal (ribcage) muscles
~ Helps to drain the sinuses and eliminate accumulated mucus
~ Bronchial congestion and spasm are removed; consequently, asthma is relieved and virtually eliminated, over a period of time
~ Helps the body to eliminate large quantities of carbon dioxide. This permits the red-blood cells to suck in more oxygen, increasing the richness of the blood
~ The added intake of oxygen into the body enriches the blood and renews body tissues, which can be felt especially in the brain. This makes kapalabhati an excellent way to improve your concentration, whether you are practising meditation or need a quick mental boost at work
~ The movement of the diaphragm and abdominal contractions massage the stomach, liver, spleen, heart and pancreas
~ Abdominal muscles are strengthened. Digestion is improved
~ The circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems are toned to a considerable degree
~ The regular practitioner of kapalabhati enjoys blooming vigour and health

” It is said that Pranayama is a more important and beneficial practice than asana practice and if there is not enough time, make it your preference to practise Pranayama over asanas. “

  • never practise when an asthmatic attack is in progress
  • should not be practised if there is any abdominal pain or cramping
  • incorrect breathing pattern – not using abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing
How to Practisechin-mudra
  1. Sit comfortably in a cross-legged position, with the back straight and the head erect. Both hands are in chin mudra. Take a few deep breaths to prepare for Kapalabathi.
  2. After the last inhalation contract the abdominal muscles quickly, causing the diaphragm to move up into the thoracic cavity and pushing the air out of the lungs forcefully.
  3. Relax the abdominal muscles allowing the diaphragm to descend into the abdominal cavity; passive inhalation takes place. The lungs automatically expand and inflate with air. Do not forcefully inhale

Repeat this pumping quickly. Passive inhalation and sudden expulsion of breath follow each other continuously until a round is completed.
End on the exhalation. Take a few deep breaths between each round. Practise 3 rounds of kapalabathi.
Start with a right hand on your abdomen and a left hand on your chest to guide you. You may use your right hand to gently push on your abdomen as you exhale.
The sound comes from the air being forced out of the lungs by the movement of the diaphragm. The sound should not be made by the nose itself.
Beginners start with 3 rounds of 20-30 pumpings each. Gradually increase to five rounds of 50-100 pumpings.



Watch Out For
  • incorrect breathing/reversing the diaphragmatic movements – contracting the abdomen while inhaling – this may cause hyperventilation (feeling strong dizziness) – stop immediately and relax by lying on your back
  • contracting the facial muscles, forcing the air out of the nose while exhaling
  • contracting the shoulders and/or arching the back, trying to push the air out while exhaling
  • forceful inhalation
  • do not attempt to start this practice by yourself without the guidance of your yoga teacher
  • If you have any doubts or concerns contact me or discuss with your physician

Once you become comfortable with the practice of Kapalabathi you may add retention. Start with a few seconds and build into 30-60 seconds, depending on your capacity.

While holding breath (retention), focus on the third-eye area between your eyebrows. There might be a pleasant warmth around the abdomen area. This is the activated prana in the solar plexus. With each round of practice, the solar plexus recharges further, and prana starts moving up the spine. After sustained practice, you will find that the prana is in accordance with how focused you are. The energy literally moves to where your thoughts go, which is why you should focus on the third eye.

When to practise

It is best to practise this exercise during the morning, it is not suggested to practise it too late in the evening since it activates the nervous system and may prevent you from falling asleep.



Yoga is joy 


Source: Sivananda yoga teacher’s training manual, Personal experience and practice




Article Name
Pranayama series: Kapalabathi breathing practice
Kapalabathi is a pranayama practice (breathing exercise) that helps to improve oxygen levels within the body. It is also one of the Kriya yoga cleansing techniques helping to purify the body and develop clarity within the mind.
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Walking the Path
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