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Kapalbhati, pacifying the mind

Our previous articles discussed the Shatkarma practices, used to clean the body of impurities and activate the circulation of Prana.

We saw that once the energy channels, or Nadis, in the body, are purified by the practices of Dhauti, Basti, and Neti, the practices of Nauli, Trataka, and Kapalbhati will increase the circulation of Prana. When Prana circulates freely, it is directed in the Sushumna Nadi at the junction of the Ida and Pingala. Having the energy flow through Sushumna Nadi allows the yogi to attain higher states of consciousness and eventually reach Samadhi.

This article will dive into the last Shatkarma practice, Kapalbhati.


The practices.

There are three practices of Kapalbhati. The first is Vatakrama, using air; the second is Vyutkrama, and the third is Sheetkrama, both using water.


In the practice of Vatakrama Kapalbhati, the yogi uses air to clean the nasal passages. The method can thus be considered a kind of Pranayama but differentiates from it because the exhalation is forced and fast instead of slower and longer than the inhalation.

In full practice, the yogi will inhale from Ida Nadi (left nostril) passively, directing the breath in his abdomen. He'll then forcefully exhale through Pingala Nadi (right nostril) by contracting his abdominal muscles. He then inhales through the right nostril and exhales from the left in the same way as before. He repeats the process for a maximum of twenty repetitions.

Kapalbhati

If the practice of the Vatakrama Kapalbhati is too difficult initially, the yogi can practice variations of it.

In the first variation, the breath is inhaled from both nostrils by relaxing and expanding the abdomen. The air is then exhaled forcefully through both nostrils via an active contraction of the abdominal muscles. This procedure is done for ten breaths; then, a free normal breath will be taken. The practice will be repeated for a maximum of three rounds of ten breaths each.

The second variation includes the alternance of nostrils. In the first round, the practitioner inhales through the left nostril, passively guiding it to the abdomen, and exhales forcefully through the left nostril, contracting the abdominal muscles. He does this ten times, then repeats with the right nostril and repeats with both nostrils. He can then repeat the whole sequence for a maximum of three rounds.

The third variation will add a period of breath retention. First, the yogi will inhale through both nostrils passively into the abdomen. He'll then contract his abdominal muscles and exhale entirely and forcefully through both nostrils. Once all the breath is out, he'll retain the breath outside as long as possible without straining. He can then repeat the practice up to twenty times.


During the practices of Vatakrama Kapalbhati, the yogi's awareness must be on his forehead or the dark space behind his closed eyes and not on his abdomen, as it is usually the case in a Pranayama practice.


The practice of Vyutkrama Kapalbhati is similar to the method of Jala Neti. The yogi will suck water through his nose, guide and hold it in his throat, and expel it through his mouth.


The practice of Sheetkrama Kapalbhati resembles the Jala Neti practice and the Sheetali Pranayama. In it, the yogi sucks a little water in his mouth, making a "u" shape with his tongue. He holds the water in his throat and guides it toward his nasopharynx to expel it from his nose. He repeats this several times with short exhalations and small amounts of water.



The benefits.

Panchakosha

Whereas the previous Shatkarma aimed to clean and purify the organs and achieve mental concentration and stability, this last Shatkarma aims at clarifying the Prana. It stabilizes the Annamaya and Pranamaya Koshas, respectively, the bliss and the energy sheat seen in the Panchakarma philosophy. The Kapalbhati practices also remove Kapha Dosha.


They purify the Ida and Pingala Nadis. The Prana flows in the frontal region of the brain, thus making the mind peaceful and aware. It reduces the need for sleep and can give energy.

Respiratory system

For the physical body, the Vatakrama Kapalbhati helps expel the stagnant air inside the lungs. The forced breath out activates the respiratory system, increasing oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. The practice can benefit people suffering from respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, tuberculosis, asthma, and chronic lung diseases.

In normal breathing, inhalation is usually done by contracting the respiratory muscles (diaphragm and intercostals), and the exhalation is passive. The practice of Vatakrama Kapalbhati reverses this process. It activates different neural pathways and helps awaken the brain centers that are not usually used.

The practice also activates the exhalation muscles, increasing their blood flow. The abdominal contraction also massages the organs of the digestive system and increases the cardiac output.


The practice of Vyutkrama and Sheetkrama Kapalbhati cleans the nostrils, the throat, and the pharynx. Vyutkrama Kapalbhati can help in the perfection of Khechari Mudra because it desensitizes the area in the nasopharynx, where the tongue must rest in the Mudra.

Sheetkrama Kapalbhati is known to tone the body and reduce the signs of old age.


Kapalbhati is the perfect preparation for meditation because it makes the mind peaceful and receptive, allowing it to become thoughtless. To increase the benefits of the practice, it is best to do Chidakasha Dharana or concentrate on the black space being the closed eyes after Kapalbhati.



Precautions and recommendations.

The practice of Vatakrama Kapalbhati is difficult because not only is the exhalation forced, but the flow is concentrated in only one nostril at a time. Beginner practitioners should start with only three repetitions and can increase it with time. It is essential that there is no strain when doing the practice and that the practitioner comes back to a normal breath if tiredness is experienced. With regular practice, repetitions can be progressively increased, ensuring the benefits of Kapalbhati.

The practices should be done before meditation and avoided at night. One should refrain from practicing Kapalbhati in hot weather, when dehydrated, or when experiencing irritability or anger. It is not recommended during pregnancy but sometimes can be adapted during labor.

Kapalbhati must be avoided by people suffering from high blood pressure, heart problems, ulcers, fever, constipation, hernia, anger, or excessive restlessness.



At Japam, we teach Shatkarma practices on an individual basis. Our teachers have studied and practiced yoga for years and are qualified to guide you safely in your practices. Don't hesitate to contact or visit us for more information.


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