Dec 18, 2008

Pranayama > Kapal bhati > I: doing it correctly

a great healer...
... and cure for a dozen sticky ailments

This post is the first of a series on Kapal bhati. In this one, I intend to dwell on the correct method of performing this simple , yet very useful yoga procedure.

Kapalbhati is simply a breathing technique in which you focus on forceful exhalation, while letting the inhalation occur passively.

Having said that, let me tell in detail what is the correct way to do it, so that you get numerous benefits from it and do not hurt yourself unintentionally.


A. Choose a comfortable place, not too hot or too cold, not windy either. Sit comfortably on a mat/carpet/folded sheet, but not on a spongy/fur-filled/stuffed or very soft matting. Relax yourself. In case you feel that sitting for a few minutes will pain your back, sit against a wall or such other prop. Close your eyes.

It will help if you suggest to yourself that you are enjoying the sitting; and if you are able to keep mind free from negative thoughts, worries and tension. If something is worrying you too much, think that no harm/ misfortune will come to you only because you are keeping yourself free from worries for the next few minutes. You can also try to do a bit of meditation by keeping your mind free from stray thoughts. On the other hand, if you are a devout type, you can fill your mind with thoughts of devotion /nearness with God. If you can't do any of these, try to at least bring positive thoughts into your mind.

Now read the next para very carefully; repeatedly if required.

B. Take a deep breath. Hold it for a second and throw it out with force.
If you are doing this for the first time, chances are that you will throw the breath out with the help of muscles inside the nose and partly by squeezing your chest. In kapal bhati, the force is provided by abdominal muscles and the diaphragm [a membrane below the lungs, which when contracted upwards, pushes air out of lungs], not the chest or throat or nostril.
Initially things may mix up; part of exhalation force might come from the nose, throat and chest and only part from the abdomen side. From the very first sitting, you must do the exhalation correctly even if other actions [inhalation, holding of breath, sitting posture] lack perfection. If you cannot exert enough force using abdominal muscles, do it with less force but do not use nose and chest muscles to exert force. Nasal passage is relaxed and passive during kapal bhati.
How much force should you use for exhalation? Not more than just enough to throw the air gush in one go and with a hissing sound. No more! This means, you do not have to press the abdomen too much inside. You also need not keep the belly pressed in after it has pumped the air out. Your body should not shake with jerk during exhalation. Keep your entire body relaxed even when the air is going out of the lungs with force.
Another thing to note is the sound that comes during exhalation. When you throw the air out of lungs, it will cause a hissing sound. This sound, if you use abdominal muscles, will seem to be coming from deep inside; but if you use nasal muscles [ie the wrong muscles], it will come from near the nose.

C. After you are able to do the first exhalation correctly, repeat it three-four times: 1. forced exhalation -- passive inhalation --
2. forced exhalation -- passive inhalation -- 3. forced exhalation -- passive inhalation -- 4. forced exhalation -- passive inhalation. Check whether you have been able to exhalecorrectly all these times, with force using only abdominal muscles. If you have succeeded, go to the next stage.

D. Now focus on inhalation and holding of the breath. Inhalation, except the initial one is passive in kapal bhati: you have to ignore how the air is going into your lungs. It will be slow, without making hissing sound, without effort.
In kapal bhati, you do not hold breath. It is, as said before, cycles of forced exhalation -- passive inhalation.

The next question is, how fast should we do kapal bhati, and for how long duration. I will discuss these in details in some other post. Right now, let me say this:
Do kapal bhati slowly, not faster than one cycle of exhalation-inhalation in three seconds. You should start with three-four cycles, then a break of a few seconds, then 3-4 cycles, then break... for about one-two minutes. Extend it to three... four ... five minutes, with small breaks in between depending upon your health and age.
If you feel uncomfortable
at any stage, chances are that either you did it wrong or beyond your capacity. Slight muscular pain above navel level could occur if you used too much force; exerting more force than required will only hurt the diaphragm inside the belly, it will not make kapal bhati more useful.

If you take care of these precautions [most of them are just common sense, aren't they?], kapal bhati is all win-win. All the best!