Kapala Bhati sometimes referred to as the “breath of fire” (although literally translated as “skull shining” breath), is known for just this- its ability to increase the Agni (digestion) in the system, promoting heat, metabolism, and energy. This ancient yogic breath is thought of as one of the main purifying breathing technique. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is similarly revered for its cleansing abilities and is often used for treatment of sluggish digestion (Manda Agni), slow metabolism, toxic accumulation, overall congestion and multiple Kapha imbalances.
So what is Kapala Bhati exactly? It is a quick and forceful breath that is focused mostly on the exhale which is directed to the area of the solar plexus and diaphragm. The inhale is still there but completely passive and almost unnoticed. Both the forceful exhale and passive inhale should be performed through the nose and never through the mouth (keep reading for full instructions!).
Health Benefits of Kapala Bhati
- Increases the digestive fire and the metabolism
- Promotes weight loss
- Increases immunity
- Removes excessive Kapha in the system
- Clears the nasal passage
- Purifies the nadis or energetic pathways of the body
- Clears and strengthens the respiratory tract
- Beneficial in asthma and other respiratory disorders
- Balances and strengthens the Nervous System
- Increases circulation
- Increases focus, attention and alertness
- Brings a sense of lightness to the body
- Energizes the mind
- Removes lethargy and sluggishness
- Activates and invigorates the liver, spleen, and pancreas
- Cleanses the blood
- Tones the abdominal muscles and digestive organs
When to Avoid Kapala Bhati
- High Pitta (heat) in the system
- Eye and ear disorders
- High or excessively low blood pressure
- Throbbing in the cranial area
- Gastric ulcer
- Heart disease
- History of epilepsy
- Previous stroke
Being a stimulating and heating practice, this breathing technique is perfect for the winter and springtime (aka Kapha season) when symptoms of congestion, allergies and heaviness are in full effect. Kapala Bhati should be practiced daily during these times in order to truly experience its benefits and potential. This can be a great addition to your morning routine, as a way to start the day with energy, vigor and lightness.
If you are using this breath work for promoting weight loss, detoxification, digestion and metabolism, it is recommended to practice Kapala Bhati multiple times throughout the day, ideally before meals. This is because this forceful breath that is directed at the solar plexus naturally will stimulate the digestive fire (Agni), preparing the system for the food to come. Increasing the digestion will simultaneously increase the metabolism, promoting both weight loss and detoxification while creating a positive domino effect on your health.
Kapala Bhati can be performed as multiple breaths in succession, and should be eventually practiced as 108 breaths without pause (although this often takes much practice). Until the 108 breaths can be performed in a row, one can instead begin by practicing four rounds of 27, taking multiple deep belly breaths in between each round.
When practicing this breathing technique, one should remain comfortable and without tension. If you notice tension or anxiety increasing this is a sign that you are doing too many breaths before you are ready. In this case, it is best to break the repetitions down and perform more rounds (less repetitions) until one can perform the entire practice with ease.
How to Perform Kapala Bhati
1. Begin in padmasana (lotus pose) or a comfortable seated position. Keep the spine erect and upright so it is straight and perpendicular to the floor. There is a slight tucking under of the lower spine (mulabandha) that is utilized for the entire practice. There also is a slight tuck in the chin.
2. Both of the hands are placed on their respective knee. With the palms down, the index finger can placed to touch the thumb (jnana mudra) while the other fingers stay straight and relaxed.
3. Before beginning, it is nice to sit here for a moment, taking several deep belly breaths through the nose. This will help create a clam and centered foundation for the breath work.
4. Once you are ready, take a long, slow, deep inhalation through the nose and into the lower abdomen.
5. Exhale forcefully by contracting the abdominal muscles and releasing the air through the nose. This exhale should only last about 1 second per breath.
6. Continue this forceful exhalation for 27 consecutive breaths. The inhale is quick and passive as you allow the abdomen to relax in between each exhale.
7. Remember that the movement of the breath comes mainly from the abdomen instead of superficially through the nostrils. This is extremely important in order to experience the health benefits of this practice. If needed, one can place their hands on their belly directly above the naval while performing this breathing technique. This will help to ensure the movement of the abdomen muscles and diaphragm.
8. Repeat this round of 27 breaths for a total of 4 times, taking a few deep belly breaths in between rounds. After becoming comfortable with this ratio, the practitioner can remove the breaks between rounds and complete 108 breaths without stopping.
- For increased energy, practice each morning before food intake. Perform a minimum of 108 breaths total.
- For digestion, metabolism, weight loss and detoxification practice 108 breaths, three times daily, 15 minutes before each meal. For severe issues, one should increase this amount up to 1008 breaths (taking deep belly breathing breaks between rounds) with practice overtime.
- For congestion and allergies practice twice daily, once first thing in the morning before food intake and again before dinner (on an empty stomach). Each session should consist of at least 108 breaths.