Kapalabhati is pronounced KAH-pah-lah-BAH-tee.
The Breath of Fire is a powerful yoga breathing technique that emphasizes a pattern of quick exhalations followed by passive inhalations.
Benefits of the Breath of Fire – Kapalabhati Breathing
It cleans and purifies the respiratory system, invigorates the vital organs of digestion, and strengthens the nervous system. Due to the swift and sharp exhalations, a shift in pressure occurs in the cerebral spinal fluid. This causes a massaging effect on the brain, enlivening every cell, and creates an “aura’ of light and vitality around the skull. According to yogis, it has a positive influence on both the third and sixth chakras.
How to do the Breath of Fire – Kapalabhati Breathing
The breath of fire is best practiced on an empty stomach. It is not to be practiced if you are pregnant, menstruating or have high blood pressure, recent abdominal surgery, heart disease, severe lung disease, hiatal hernia, or glaucoma. Do not use too much force and be cautious if you have digestive or respiratory problems. If you have questions, please consult a qualified teacher.
Practice three rounds daily.
Come into a comfortable seated position with your spine erect. Take a few deep breaths and relax.
Exhale quickly and completely through the nostrils by contracting (snapping) the abdominal muscles toward the spine. Follow this with a passive inhalation. Repeat this several times slowly. The secret is in the rapid pumping of air out from the lower lobes of the lungs, followed by a passive inhalation that occurs naturally and automatically. The exhalation is active and the inhalation is passive.
To learn the proper amount of effort needed for each exhalation …
pretend as if you are blowing a candle out. As you practice blowing out through your mouth, notice how your abdomen contracts and how your breath is short and quickly releases. In the breath of fire however, your nose is used instead of your mouth.
In the beginning practice the breath of fire by placing your hands over your naval center. As you exhale, notice how your abdomen quickly moves in toward your spine, and as you inhale it will relax as your diaphragm expands with the incoming breath. Keep your shoulders stationary, relaxed and your chest passive.
Once you feel comfortable with coordinating the rapid exhalation, the movement of the abdomen, and the passive inhalation, gradually pick up the pace until you find your own preferred rhythm. Start with ten to fifteen expulsions at first, followed by breathing fully and deeply for three to five complete dirgha breaths. Practice two more sets of ten to fifteen repetitions for a total of three rounds.
If you feel dizzy, out of breath or uncomfortable in any other way, immediately stop and breath normally until you feel stable again. Progressively increase the number of repetitions per round until you can comfortably do fifty expulsions. There is no need to rush the process. Expect to take several months of daily practice to build up to three rounds of fifty.
Further refinements can be made after you feel comfortable with the breath of fire. When you feel at ease with the breathing mechanics , focus your attention on the middle of your forehead just above your eyebrows, also called the third eye or sixth chakra.
Another refinement is to add a brief period of breath retention between the rounds. To do so, exhale completely on the last exhalation of each round and the hold your breath out briefly. When you need to, inhale until your lungs are approximately three-fourths full and hold the breath in briefly. Exhale when ready and allow your breath to return to a normal rate.
Reprinted with permission: Yoga Meditations: Timeless Mind-Body Practices by Julie Lusk