Written by Dr. Nancy Ash, Director of the NewEarth University a new-paradigm learning initiative of the New Earth Project (Reprinted with permission from www.Doinga360.com)
A Kriya Yoga Technique called Kapalabhati is one of the Shat-Karmas (six cleansing or purification processes) as well as one of the main pranayamas or deep breathing exercises of the Yoga system.
The word kapalabhati is Sanskrit consisting of two words: kapala meaning skull, and bhati, which translates as shine. So the term kapalabhati actually indicates that this powerful and unique practice makes your “skull shine.”
So how does it cleanse?
Kapalabhati is a purification process that entails vigorous breathing or quick expulsions or pumpings of the breath. This Kriya yoga technique and pranayama cleanses the respiratory system and nasal passages. Forced strong exhalations rid the lungs of older, stale air lying at the bottom, which creates a vacuum (of sorts) to bring in prana (life force) with a fresh supply of vital oxygen.
“Warmness on the Soul“… Practice & Tips for Kapalabhati:
When you practice kapalabhati you will become very warm. You’ll notice a glowing sensation in your head and face from this intense practice. Hence the name “skull shining.” It’s what I call: “Warmness on the Soul” or “Soul-Shine.” This astonishing pranayama is a portal to your Soul and Source of all being.
Photo of Nancy Ash from the book, Creative Wellness by Michelle Lusson (1980s)
I would highly recommend that you have a skilled teacher assist you when learning any pranayamas, especially this mighty Kriya yoga technique. Kapalabhati is performed in a seated posture, such as Easy Pose, Half Lotus or Lotus (padmasana, which I am demonstrating in this photo). I’ve taught many yogis and yoginis to also practice pranayama while sitting in a chair. So if you can’t sit on the floor you may still train in this wonderful breathing purification exercise.
Let’s look at some benefits of this essential pranayama and kriya:
- Purifies the respiratory system and nasal passages
- Impurities of the blood are expelled
- Circulatory system is toned
- Lung function is enhanced
- Ability to hold the breath increases
- Carbon-dioxide is eliminated
- Tones the abdominal muscles
- Tones the stomach, heart and liver by vigorous movements of the diaphragm
- Increases oxygen flow to all cells
- Increases energy to the head (perspiration increases)
- Clears the mind (excellent preparation for meditation)
- Improves concentration
“Pranayama is the link between the mental and physical disciplines. While the action is physical, the effect is to make the mind calm, lucid and steady.” – Swami Vishnu-Devananda
Let’s explore some practice:
One round of Kapalabhati:
- Sitting up straight in your chosen seated asana, take a few rounds of gentle, regular conscious breathing, first.
- Then inhale… and…
- EXHALE vigorously, pulling your abdominal muscles inward sharply.
- Repeat that pumping action about 5-15 times, keeping a steady pace.
- When you feel done with the expulsions (exhales), inhale smoothly and completely, and, exhale smoothly and completely.
- Finally, inhale completely and smoothly, and hold that breath….. as long as you can, comfortably
- When you are done holding your breath, exhale comfortably…… Sit still and relax. Feel the warmth pervade, feel your “Soul-Shine” as your head radiates tremendous energy.
2nd round of Kapalabhati, same as the first, etc.
Tips for Kapalabhati:
Inhaling is automatic. On the inhale you will relax your abdomen. It will be silently soft. Emphasize the exhalation. Remember this Kriya yoga technique is about expelling the air… not taking it in.
Important: Do not force or strain, especially when you are holding your breath. When you are exhaling quickly in these deep breathing exercises, you are contracting the abdominal muscles sharply. That action is raising your diaphragm, which is forcing the air out of your lungs. Keep the exhale short and audible. To practice now: put your hand up a few inches from your nostrils and sharply blow out. You should feel the warm air on your hand and hear the hissing sound of the breath – going out.
Practice a few “pumps” at first. Maybe 3-5, and then observe how you feel. Next round you may try more. When beginning, don’t over do it, otherwise your tummy may be a bit sore the next day from too much contracting of your “abs.” Suggestion is to practice three (3) rounds the first day… of up to 10-15 pumpings/expulsions each. Gradually work up to 20 exhales (pumps)… advanced practitioners up to 60.
Other Tips for Deep Breathing Exercises:
- Avoid eating at least 2-3 hours before practice.
- Fresh air is best before sunrise.
- Avoid cold air as this may stress the lungs.
- Avoid incense; keep air clean.
- Empty bladder and bowels first.
- Make sure spine is straight; use a cushion.
- Take a lesson from a qualified teacher.
- Check with your physician before starting pranayamas.
When you are finished with rounds of kapalabhati, continue sitting quietly for a few minutes. You may then lie down on your back and do śavasana (yoga relaxation). If you’re able, stay seated and proceed directly into the meditation method of your choice.
With regular practice you will significantly enhance your meditation experience, harvesting the powerful health benefits of this pranayama. As a practitioner and teacher of pranayamas since the ’70s, I can vouch for their amazing benefits. The basic Kapalabhati Kriya is a portal to deepening spiritual development. A warmness on the Soul arises… indeed your “Soul shines.”
Please note: Always consult your physician before starting any exercise plan, and find a qualified teacher to help you.
Good luck in your purification practice. OM Shanti, and Namasté
Dr. Nancy Ash, DD, PhD is a modern day mystic, pioneering yogini and midwife to the new paradigm since the 1970s. Her heart-centered voice is heard worldwide as a passionate new-thought-leader, author/poet, tv host, and former radio co-host championing peace for all women, men and children on this planet. Dr. Ash is worldwide executive director of the NewEarth University, a planetary hub for wisdom-keeping of the greater, NewEarth Project. Nancy is also a professor, post/grad advisor and Dean of the School of Interspiritual Studies at New Earth Theological University (online).
In tandem with decades of multi-dimensional work as a “Oneness advocate” in the field of evolutionary consciousness, she is deeply honored to serve on the Board of Trustees for the International Tribunal for Natural Justice (ITNJ), to ensure that human rights are fairly and nobly upheld, restoring justice-making to the people. Dr. Ash feels that serving in this capacity is an enormous responsibility steeped in integrity, diligence and steadfast devotion to a better world.
Nancy resides in enchanted mountains of New Mexico and has authored two books: Garland of Grace: Sitting with the Dying Sun, and Doing a 360: Turning Your Life Around to Follow Soul’s Purpose. For more information: click here