One of the breathing techniques we looked at in our yoga classes this week was Kapalabhati, known as the Breath of Fire or Skull-Shining Breath. This technique is in fact both a Pranayama technique (yogic breathing) and a Shatkarma (Shatkriya) which is an internal cleansing technique. The word “kapal” means skull and “bhati” means shining or illuminating hence “Skull-Shining Breath”.
How to perform Kapalabhati
Sit comfortably, head and spine in a straight line with the hands resting on the knees. Close the eyes and allow the whole body to relax.
Exhale through both nostrils with a forceful contraction of the abdominal muscles. The subsequent inhalation should take place passively by allowing the abdominal muscles to relax. This movement is done quickly, completing 10 rapid breaths in succession, with the focus on the exhalation.
After 10 rapid breaths pause and inhale and exhale deeply allowing the breath to return to normal. This is one round. Practise up to 5 rounds. Please note that you may feel a little lightheaded at first, particularly when new to the technique so just pause as need be. If you feel dizzy or anxious doing Kapalabhati then stop the technique.
The rapid breathing should be from the abdomen with the shoulders, upper body and face remaining relaxed. It can be difficult at first to isolate the contraction in this area but this does get easier as you practise.
The initial count of 10 can be increased up to 50 as the abdominal muscles become stronger.
Benefits: Kapalabhati has a cleansing effect on the lungs and nasal passages and is a good practice for respiratory disorders. It balances and strengthens the nervous system, tones the digestive organs and strengthens the lower abdominal muscles.
Key contraindications: Kapalabhati is not recommended during pregnancy and should not be practised by people suffering from high blood pressure, heart problems and gastric/abdominal conditions in particular.
[The video below shows how to perform Kapalabhati]