Kapalabhati Pranayama, or Breath of Fire

by YogaYami

Some call kapalabhati a pranayama, while others call it a kriya (kapala means skull and bhati means light or lustre). This is similar to bhastrika, only milder. In it inhalation is slow, exhalation vigorous, but there is a split second of retention after each out-breath. Do kapalabhati instead of bhastrika if the latter proves too strenuous.


The key to effective Kapalabhati Pranayama, as with all types of pranayama, is to remain relaxed. And to stay focused and mindful of what is occurring. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position with an erect spine, shoulders wide, sternum lifting with each inhalation. Close the eyes. Take several deep breaths and feel the tension leaving the body through each exhalation. Relax the body, yet keep it active and engaged. Tension-free. Allow the throat to open, and relax. Exhale forcefully through the nostrils, contracting the abdominal muscles. The inhalation happens passively. Repeat slowly at first to make sure the belly is relaxing after the contraction. Then resume the forceful exhalation, finding your own rhythm.

Always start slowly, limiting your repetitions until the body is ready to move to the next level. As you become more comfortable with Kapalabhati, you can increase the repetitions, working towards 100 repetitions per round. If you feel short of breath, slow down to allow more time for the inhalation. To practice alternative nose breathing, close the right nostril with the right thumb, exhaling sharply. Switch the hold on the nostrils, and close the left nostril with the ring finger, exhaling sharply.

Some of the Effects:

Both these activate and invigorate the liver, spleen, pancreas and abdominal muscles, and improve digestion. They strengthen the abdominal muscles, diaphragm and heart, deeply massage the internal organs, stimulate digestion and elimination, remove stale air and toxins from the lungs, and pumps fresh Prana into the cells of the body. They energize, massage and cleanse the central nervous system, bringing mental clarity, and alertness. They drain the sinuses and stop the nose running. They also create a feeling of exhilaration. When done through alternating nostrils, there is a balancing effect.

Kapalabhati purifies ida and pingala nadis, removes sensory distractions from the mind and is used to energize the mind for mental work. It removes sleepiness and prepares the mind for meditation. It has a similar cleansing effect on the lungs as bhastrika does. It is good practice for asthmatics, and those suffering from emphysema, bronchitis and tuberculosis.

After a few months of proper preparation, it can be effective for women to use during childbirth. It balances and strengthens the nervous system and tones the digestive organs. For spiritual aspirants, this practice arrests thoughts and visions.


If pain or dizziness is experienced, stop the practice and sit quietly for some time. When the sensation has passed, recommence the practice with more awareness and less force. If the problem continues, consult a yoga teacher.


Kapalabhati should not be practiced by those suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, vertigo, epilepsy, stroke, hernia, gastric ulcer, colitis, recent surgery, emphysema, or during menstruation or pregnancy (unless you have been practising prior to becoming pregnant). You may instead do Ujjayi Pranayama. Or, Dirgha Pranayama.


Kapalabhati is also one of the six shatkarmas. The Sanskrit word kapal means “cranium” or ‘forehead’, and bhati means ‘light’ or ‘splendor’. Also ‘perception’ or ‘knowledge’. Hence, kapalabhati is the practice which brings a state of light or clarity to the frontal region of the brain. Another name for this practice is kapalshodhana, the word shodhana meaning ‘to purify’.

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