Forced exhalation in Kapalbhati increases the massaging effect on the brain by enhancing the decompression effect on every exhalation. ……. as quoted by Andre Van Lysebeth
Kapalbhati is a popular practice among yoga practitioners. Even the non-practitioners are familiar with this popular practice. Kapalbhati is referred to as one of the Shatkarmas (cleansing process) in Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Prayanama in other texts. The primary function of Kapalbhati is the cleansing of the frontal brain region. Regular and the correct methodology in practice can eliminate the lethargy of mind and body.
Kapalbhati is voluntary abdominal breathing
Kapalbhati is voluntary abdominal breathing that works on activating and massaging the abdominal region to its fullest. During our regular respiration, inhalation is active. We use our diaphragm and intercostal muscles actively to expand our lungs completely for optimal oxygen intake. The exhalation, on the other hand, is passive and occurs mostly as a result of the automatic compression of the expanded muscles. This process reverses in Kapalbhati. Here, the exhalation is intentionally active and forceful, whereas, the inhalation is passive and automatic which occurs, when the contracted active muscles used during exhalation, relax or loosen up. It is important to mention that, unknowingly, we have turned into shallow breathers. This is responsible for a host of psycho somatic problems – upper back pain, hypertension, stress, mental tension etc. Kapalbhati practiced, just for five minutes daily, will help the practitioner maintain abdominal breathing for the whole day and thereby, keep a lot of tension at bay.
Chest movement is common amongst many practitioners
In order to reap the unlimited benefits of Kapalbhati (which are innumerable), it is critical to ensure correct postural alignment and the correct methodology. It is very common to see that many practitioners involve their whole body (thoracic region & shoulders) in the practice and not only their abdomen. This kind of forced jerk will cause more harm than good. The longer you continue with such practice, (which is again common), the more harm you are causing to your body.
As reiterated again and again, Kapabhati is an abdominal breathing kriya and hence the abdomen is the only area where one should have deliberate movement during performance. There will be a slight movement of the chest due to the movement of the abdomen but there should not be any distinct movement as the thoracic region is held in a soft locked position.
Why chest should be held upright?
- Kapalbhati is forceful exhalation. This force can be made more effective and better, to blow out the air to its fullest, only if, the thoracic region is held in a slightly elevated position.
- An elevated thoracic helps maintain a neutral spine; which, in turn, helps the spine maintain its natural curves and, thereby awakens the The role of a neutral spine is highly emphasized during yogic practices which believe that this allows the prana to flow in the right direction. A collapsing chest makes your mind lethargic and the actions halfhearted. It strains the back and unnecessarily increases the work of the muscles involved in breathing. Probably, this is the reason that people complain of back pain after a long kapalabhati practice.
- Expanded chest increases the blowing out strength of the diaphragm and helps clear the air passage more effectively.
In short, you will see the actual benefits of practicing kapalbhati only by holding your upper back in the correct position, or then, most of your efforts will be in vain. Check the video link on holding your chest in elevated position.
How to hold the chest upright?
The above argument automatically raises the question – how do we know if we are holding our chest in the right position? It is extremely simple and needs more of awareness than anything else.
- During yogic breathing, there is a full expansion of your abdomen, thoracic and clavicle region in that order and a full contraction of the same region in reverse order. Take a few deep breaths involving these 3 sections of the body.
- As you get ready for Kapalbhati, focus only on thoracic breathing i.e. expand your chest up and out with inhalation, hold the chest softly in that expanded position and go on exhaling forcefully. Make sure to hold the position of your chest intact until you are done with your Kapalbhati practice
A few minutes of correct practice is much more effective that hours of wrong practice. You can check the videos and the detailed descriptions of Kapalbhati at www.shammisyogalaya.com
Shammi Gupta, founder of Shammi’s Yogalaya holds an MA in Yoga Shastra, is a certified Yogic Therapist and Naturopath, has completed an Advanced Yoga Course and holds a Diploma in Yoga Education from Mumbai University. She is a certified trainer from American College of Sports Medicine and holds an MBA in HR & MBA in Finance from The University of Akron, Ohio, USA. She conducts Health Awareness Workshops for Corporate, Yogasana Workshops for Athletes and Yoga Therapy Workshops on different medical issues for patients. Among the celebrities Shammi trains are eminent personalities from the film and television industry and corporate world.