(Last Updated on : 03/04/2014)
Kapalbhati is a technique for purification. The specific organs or the parts of the body are cleaned by this practice. Yoga believes that there are not only physical but mental or psychological impurities (malas) also, which cause blockages in the function of the nervous system, if they are not thrown out, they would create imbalance in different functions and ultimately prepare a base for various diseases like asthma, insomnia, acidity, and kidney stone. Literally, Kapala means the skull, while Bhati has been deduced from the Sanskrit word which means to shine. As a whole, Kapalbhati means an exercise that causes the skull to shine brightly. It is one of the six cleansing processes (shatkriyas) described by Hatha yoga. This purification process involves the breathing apparatus, nasal passages and the sinuses in the skull that are cleansed effectively.
In Gherand Samhita, three diverse varieties of Kapalbhati have been mentioned. All these varieties are commonly categorized according to their capacity of cleansing the nasal passages that are located in the human skull. Mainly a breathing exercise, most experts came to the conclusion that there are total six varieties of kapalbhati, which are mostly practiced by the people in general. What is truly interesting is that much effort has been undertaken to provide scientific evidences about this benefit of cleansing human skull that Kapalbhati is capable of.
The most preferred posture advised for Kapalbhati exercise is to adopt the `lotus pose` as it has to be practiced vigorously and over a good length of time. A vigorous practice of Kapalbhati, even for a few minutes, makes almost every tissue in the human body vibrate. One can continue this exercise for a long time in this posture and that too quite rapidly. The merit of doing Kapalbhati in this posture even for a few minutes can make almost all the tissues of human body to throb. This vibration accelerates if one continues with the exercise for a long time maintaining same vigour and enthusiasm. However, one should immediately stop it after reaching a point when he feels that it is possible for him to stretch it further. It is to be noted that lotus posture as has been already mentioned, largely comprises of foot locking.
The position of the hands may, as usual, be either on the knees making `Jnana-Mudra`. Sometimes these may even be placed in front of the outer abdomen. Kapalabhati is indeed a breathing exercise where various techniques are moulded to soothe the Yoga practitioners.
Generally speaking, Kapalbhati, thus, is a breathing exercise of the abdomen or diaphragm in which abrupt ejections of breath, following one another in rapid succession Kapalbhati is also characterized by the lack of any pause in the movement of breath so long as the exercise carries on. In the case of Kapalbhati there is one additional feature, which needs to be kept in mind always. During Kapalbhati one needs to expel breaths of air as many rounds as one desires and also is competent enough to perform.
Benefits of Kapalbhati:
There are some physiological effects of kapalbhati. The respiration obviously becomes shallow in nature. The tidal volume decreases. In normal breathing it is 450-500 ml per breath while in kapalbhati the tidal volume has been found to be only 150-200 ml per breathing cycle. Minute ventilation (MV), however, increases about three times more than that in the normal breathing due to increased breathing rate. In normal breathing MV is 7.5 liters per minute, while in kapalbhati MV is about 20.5 liters per minute. Thus the Oxygen consumption increases due to increased work of breathing. Consequently, Carbon dioxide is eliminated in large quantity from the blood. Oxygen consumption increases by 10-40 percent over a normal breathing and then decreases by 3 percent, after the practice is over, compared to the normal values. As large quantity of carbon dioxide is washed out from the blood during kapalbhati the respiratory centre is not stimulated for breathing, on the contrary it is inhibited and one experiences a quiet or a tranquilized state of mind. Experimentally it has been observed that the duration of antar kumbhaka (holding the breath internally) increases. An apnea like condition is automatically established. This helps one to hold his breath comfortably for a longer time.
Moreover, kapaibhati not only clears the respiratory passage and keeps it free from impurities and mucous etc., but also stimulates the nerves in the abdominal (navel) region and in the skull. It produces a peculiar awareness in the forehead region and enhances the effects of bhrumadhya drishti (gazing between the two eyebrows). It also helps in awakening the Kundalini
power. It gives excellent massage to the abdominal organs and improves digestion. As one is required to attend and synchronize the breathing with the abdominal force at least in the beginning, consciously, it reduces the alertness for the external environment and induces inner awareness. For all these reasons it seems very practical that the practice of kapalbhati precedes the Kumbhaka phase of Bhastrika Pranayama.
Precautions for Kapalbhati:
The heart rate increases slightly by 15-20 beats per minute and systolic blood pressure also increases by 7-10 mmHg. The diastolic blood pressure remains more or less the same. Although these cardio-vascular changes are mild in nature, a hypertensive or a heart patient is advised not to practice kapalbhati. It may be remembered by the readers that in all most all the yogic techniques the lower abdominal and the pelvic region is the target area of their action. A practitioner feels more energetic and fresh after even a short practice of kapalbhati. It brings about a slight sympathetic tone in the body followed by a parasympathetic predominance after the practice. The practitioner feels energetic after practicing this Pranayama. This is also supported by the fact that during kapalbhati the peripheral blood flow is reduced.