Friday, June 20, 2008

Kapalabhati Breath

It has been one of those weeks where everything seems a bit off kilter - so I thought this would be a good opportunity to clarify the breath (pranyama) exercise I was attempting to convey to my Monday class - kapalabahti breathing. I told my poor students it was bhastrika...similar, yet very different.

Kapalabahti pranyama - what is it and why should we do it?

Kapalabhati is a series of rapid strong exhalations, followed by a passive inhalation. This practice requires the practitioner to develop the ability to relax the abdominals quickly and completely after each exhale, and to keep the diaphragm relaxed throughout.

This pranyama can be practiced during a regular asana session. It is recommended to do after the postures and before nadi shodhanam (alternate nostril breathing) and meditation. Kapalabhati is energizing and cleansing and it enhances the practitioners sense of energy and awareness. This is noted to be a good practice for late afternoon or after work but before the evening meal and not recommended before sleep.

Why is it cleansing? Kapalabhati actively moves metabolic wastes from the tissues and into the lungs where they are expelled. The strong exhales increase the volume of air passing through the lungs which increases the flow of blood. When metabolic wastes are decreased the bodies tissues release additional stored waste into the blood which has a cleansing effect on all tissues and organs.

Why is it strengthening? Kapalabhati encourages increased cardiovascular activity and it requires focus on the abdominals and spine. The abdominals are used in a vigorous yet controlled manner and the spine assists in keeping the head and torso strong and erect. The contraction through exhaling gives the organs a lovely massage which stimulates the digestive system and increases blood and lymph circulation - which means a healthier digestive system. And, the exercised abdominal muscles are less likely to pop out from loss of vitality. Sounds good to me!

How is this practiced?
Find a comfortable seated position - this can be crossed legged, half lotus or full lotus. Even sitting upright in a chair is acceptable. Head, neck and truck are erect with the sitbones moving down into the ground (or chair). Do not lean back into a wall, slouch or collapse through the torso.

Begin by just connecting with your breath, breathing in and out of the nose. Once comfortable and centered, begin to lengthen the inhales and exhales slightly to establish long regular breathing.

At the end of an exhale, strongly contract the abdominals and force the air out through the nose. Use only the abdominal muscles - a good way to envision is to try and bring your belly button back toward your spine. This is the only part of you that moves.

Immediately inhale. Relax the abdominal muscles and allow the diaphragm to return to it’s natural position. We do not actively inhale here - this is what is known as a passive inhale.

Start this practice off slowly. Begin with 10 rounds per cycle, three cycles per session. Each cycle is separated by regular, even breathing until equilibrium is re-established. Increase as confidence and ability grows.

Make each exhale forceful with out straining. Think like a bear “woofing” it’s warning, or a deer snorting to alert others around it. Short, explosive exhales.

The rhythm of the breath should be like the ticking of a clock. It is recommended to begin practicing at a rate of one exhale per second. Increase when you feel comfortable.

Always practice pranyama on an empty stomach. If you feel any pain, are pregnant, have high blood pressure or heart disease, please forgo the exercise.

For your viewing enjoyment, I have found selected a video from YouTube: Kapalabhati Breath

Happy Breathing!

Sources: Tempering the Mettle,Michael Grady; Stroking the Fire, Michael Grady; Yoga International Publication. Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar.

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