Kapalbhati Pranayama: Steps, Benefits & Precautions [Scientific Research Based]

kapalbhati pranayama, steps, benefits & precautions

Image Source: Fitsri

A healthy adult (both male and female) normally inhale 500 ml of air & approximately exhale the same volume in one breath 1. What special in Kapalbhati breathing is, it increases the amount of air lungs expel in every breath.

Exhaling breath is actually the process of detoxification & cool down the brain from hot gases. So, with longer exhalation, you can expel a larger amount of CO2 (a stressor gas) & other impurities out of your body.

During kapalbhati pranayama, we expel 100 ml extra (600 ml) air as compared to normal breathing. This practice is very helpful for Shallow/Chest breathing 2.

What is Kapalbhati?

Kapalbhati is a yogic technique in which belly intentionally draws in to produce forced & sharp (active) exhalations through nostrils followed by automatic passive inhalations.

When pranayama added in Kapalbhati, it becomes a practice to consciously watch your breath and movements of inner organs while Prana drawing in and out of the body.

Although, In Hatha yoga pradipika, kapalbhati’s picture depicts like this so it’s also called “breath of fire“.

Image Source: gifimage

Perform exhalation and inhalation rapidly like the bellows (of a blacksmith). This is called kapalbhati and it destroys all mucus disorders.Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Kapalbhati is one of  6 Yogic kriyas (Shatkarma) mentioned in ancient yogic text Gheranda Samhita. Other 5 Kriyas of Shatkarma are:

  1. Dhauti – For purification of the food pipe
  2. Neti – For purification of nasal cavities
  3. Nauli – For purification of the digestive organs
  4. Trataka – To strengthen eyes
  5. Basti – For cleaning large intestine
  6. Kapalbhati – For purification of the head region

Meaning of Kapalbhati

Sanskrit word kapalbhati is the made up of  ‘Kapal’ & ‘Bhati’. Kapal means ‘Skull or Frontal head‘ & Bhati means ‘Shinning‘.

In this way, combining terms together

Kapalbhati means skull shinning. It’s a yogic breathing technique which makes the forehead shine as well as influences the working of the small brain.

Another name of Kapalbhati is ‘Bhalabhati’ where Bhala means Head (in a way to cure Anemia).

Benefits of Kapalbhati Pranayama

Benefits of Kapalbhati Pranayama

Image Source: Fitsri

1. Massages the Brain & Hence Control Stress Response 

Kapalabhati is a reversible process of normal breathing & hence, as compare to usual breath it affects in the brain different way.

According to a Belgian yoga instructor Andre Van Lysebeth,3 During normal breathing fluid around the brain is compressed and so that brain contracts.

Scientific Explanation

Rapid or active exhalation of kapalbhati creates a pressure difference in the belly 4. The belly pressure reduces the permeability of inhaling air which further makes the effect of exhaling air twice strong.  

On an exhalation of Kapalbhati, fluid around our brain (Cerebrospinal Fluid) decompressed. The way massage therapy works on cerebrospinal fluid 5, the same way rapid exhalation of kapalbhati function. This is called the massaging effect of kapalbhati on the brain.

The massaging effect helps the brain to calm and relax even in adverse conditions, which is a controlled stress response.

2. Strengthen Respiratory Muscles & Avoid Asthma, Lung Cancer Like Diseases

In normal breathing, we rarely fully optimize our respiratory organs because of shallow breathing. Kapalbhati is like a warm-up exercise for respiratory organs that utilize maximum muscles in the breathing process. Thus, kapalbhati breathing strengthens the respiratory muscles. 

Further, when your respiratory muscles are strong enough, this makes the system efficient to avoid any respiratory diseases like Asthma, lung cancer, & COPD. 

Scientific Study

To assess the effect of kapalbhati pranayama on the respiratory system, peak expiratory flow rate measured 6 in adults.

In this study, 60 subjects randomized into 2 trail groups, namely pranayama (n=30) and control groups (n=30). Control group subjects haven’t participated in kapalbhati while to pranayama group supervised training was given. Peak expiratory flow rate in both group’s subjects measured before & after the 6 weeks. 

In kapalbhati pranayama group, the highest value of expiration recorded at the end of 6 weeks was around 300-350 M/L and in the control group, it was around 200-250 L\M. 

This study shows that regular practice of kapalbhati pranayama makes your respiratory organs work more efficiently & hence strengthens its muscles.   

3. Helps in Getting Glowing Skin by Purification of Blood 

Our skin color depends upon a pigment called melanin 7. For glowing skin, melanin should present in a balanced proportion in the organs. Its availability can be easily regulated by the oxygen flowing in the blood.     

Scientific Explanation

So simply, If you want glowing skin, there must be better oxygenation of blood flowing through your veins. More oxygenation means better your skin tissue revival will be, which makes skin glow 8

 Regular & consistent practice of kapalbhati increases the circulation of oxygen-rich blood in the body. This blood helps to cure acne, wrinkles, dark circles, and other skin disorders completely.

Kapalbhati becomes more beneficial for glowing skin when it’s practiced in conjunction with Varun mudra (gesture of water). Sufficiency of water comes through this yoga mudra nourishes the dry skin & makes skin glow.  

Different impurities present in our blood cells are also the cause of dull, blotchy, and lackluster skin. Rapid strokes of kapalbhati pull out these impurities in the form of CO2. Hence, kapalbhati stimulates cellular regeneration to bring back skin’s natural glow. 

4. Prevents Hair Loss & Improves Hair Growth

The common cause of hair loss could be pregnancy, menopause, thyroid, stressful experience, depression & high blood pressure. Among all the cases, most of the time it happens because of limited or restricted supply of oxygen to the scalp. 

In kapalbhati pranayama, by short & forceful exhalation, the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the head area (or scalp) gets increased. This is the same as the massaging effect of kapalbhati.

Massaging effect stimulates the secretion of pituitary and thyroid glands. On secretion of these hormones, a better connection gets established between our skin & the hair. In this way, kapalbhati can prevent hair loss & helps in the growth of new hair.

5. Helps in Weight Loss

Excess fat accumulated in the body has become a problem in general in today’s era. You can imagine from this statistic only, 70 million adults in the U.S are obese (BMI > 30 kg/m2) 9.

Kapalbhati’s mechanism of rapid exhalation, one after another, let you expel out extra accumulated fat from your body. In this way, kapalbhati is considered a purificatory exercise (Shuddhi Kriya/Shatkarma) rather than just a Pranayam.    

To understand how kapalbhati works for weight loss, one can easily relate Kapalbhati with any other physical workout. The way any physical exercise increases our metabolic rate 10 the same does the kapalbhati. This increased metabolism is a key that decides how fast our body will process the raw food & convert it into energy our cells need. This increases calorie consumption and further, decrease in fat deposition.

Hence, in simple words, it can be understood by increasing metabolic rate, kapalbhati helps in weight loss. 

Research Done 

Many pieces of scientific studies have proved the weight loss effect of kapalbhati pranayama by just 8 weeks of consistent practice.

In a research 11 done in Mumbai based institute, 60 overweight resident doctors were recruited for 8 weeks of control-trial study. These doctors were divided into 2 groups, 30 in the study group & 30 in the control group. Waist circumference and hip circumference were measured in both group’s doctor before the study.

The study group doctors were given kapalbhati sessions, Monday to Saturday (15 minutes) under the supervision of experts.

At the end of 8 weeks, waist circumference and hip circumference in both group doctors were measured.

kapalbhati weight loss - waist circumference

The result showing a decrease in waist circumference

kapalbhati weight loss - hip circumference

The result showing a decrease in hip circumference

This study shows kapalbhati is a great exercise for the treatment of abdominal obesity.

For further studies on weight loss via kapalbhati, you can refer to this 12 & this 13

6. Cure Problems Related to Digestive system

Practicing kapalbhati can let you relief from the common digestive problem such as stomach pain, gas, ulcers, nausea, constipation or diarrhea.    

In kapalbhati, when we blow out the air by rapidly pushing abdominal muscles inward, it actually massages the abdominal organs. This massage makes all abdominal organs work efficiently, which further enhances the overall mechanism of the digestive system.     

Indian Yog Guru Swami Ramdev suggests Kapalbhati & bhastrika pranayama when practiced at a slow pace, is beneficial for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). People suffering from GERD is witnessed for acidity problems, burning sensation in chest & throat.       

7. Reduces Blood Sugar Level in Diabetic Patients

Kapalbhati pranayama can make a diabetic person strong enough to fight against many diseases such as heart problems, kidney problems, eye damage & Alzheimer’s disease. These are common diseases that can occur to a diabetic person.

Actually, the practice of kapalbhati is helpful in the secretion of insulin hormone which moves sugar from the blood into the cells. In this way, the sugar level in blood decreases & hence diabetes can be controlled.

kapalbhati decreases blood sugar level

To assess the effect of kapalbhati on diabetic patients, it has seen in a study 14 that on practicing kapalbhati for 1 month there is a significant decrease in blood sugar level.

How To Do Kapalbhati Pranayama: A Step By Step Guide

Traditionally, the practice of kapalbhati is preferred in some seated yogic asana while maintaining a balance of ease and effort. For those who suffer to get into the seated postures, can also perform it on a chair or in lying down positions.

After getting comfortable into the pose, begin kapalbhati breathing, draw your belly in to force your breath out in shorter intervals of inhaling.

1. Sit in a comfortable yogic posture

kapalbhati - sitting in padmasana

Image Source: Fitsri

Relax your body, close your eyes & sit in a cross-legged position on the floor. Bring your focus completely on the breath going in and out of nostrils. One can also sit in yogic postures like Padmasana & Sukhasana, if comfortable.

2. Make a suitable hand gesture

kapalbhati pranayama step 2

Image Source: Fitsri

Make Gyan Mudra with your fingers and place it over the kneecap. Hand gestures, also known as mudras help to concentrate the mind when doing a yoga kriya.

3. Inhale deep (First breath)

kapalbhati pranayama - step 3 - inhale deep

Image Source: Fitsri

Now bring your awareness to the belly region by syncing normal breathing with belly movements. Take a deep breath ‘in’, in a slow & steady manner from both nostrils. This will fill pranic energy into the lungs for further rapid exhale. Concentrate on inhaling quietly.

4. Exhale active & Inhale passively

kapalbhati pranayama - step 4 - exhale rapid

Image Source: Fitsri

This is the foremost step of kapalbhati Pranayama.

‘Exhale with stroke through the diaphragm and inhale will become automatically’ it’s the beauty of kapalbhati. A beginner should do it with full attention and with minimal stress on the abdominal region.

  1. While breath is in your lungs, pull your stomach in towards the back. Pull as much as you comfortably can draw but not in a stressful manner. Your excessive stress can put an adverse effect on internal organs.
  2. As you pull the stomach in, breath rapidly comes out of lungs through both nostrils and automatically a lighter breath draws in at the same instance.

5. Repeat & Relax

kapalbhati pranayama - step 4 - exhale rapid

Image Source: Fitsri

One forced exhale with lighter inhale is counted as 1 breath of kapalbhati.

Repeat in this manner for 20 to 40 breaths, and It will be one round of kapalbhati. After one round, relax abdominal muscles & watch your breath. When you feel a calmness in breathing, repeat the same kapalbhati breath for the next round.

After 3 rounds, keep sitting in cross-legged posture for a few minutes & observe the sensations of the body. Now you can go for some meditation practice.

Beginner Tips for Kapalbhati Pranayama

  1. Put your right hand on the stomach to feel the abdominal muscle movements. Keep the stomach’s pulls equal and continuous throughout the whole cycle of pranayama.
  2. If you experience dizziness while practising kapalbhati, you are doing it forcefully. Start practising it with less force and more awareness.
  3. For a beginner, 3 rounds of 20 breath are sufficient in the beginning.
  4. After practicing 1-month increase up to 5 rounds and 10 breaths per week. In this way, at the end of 6 weeks, you will be doing 100 breaths per round, i.e. 500 kapalbhati breaths.

Types of Kapalabhati Pranayama

According to inhalation and exhalation practices at different-different pace, kapalabhati can be divided into 3 parts.

1. Vatakrama Kapalbhati 

Vatakarma Kapalabhati consists of rapid exhalation one after other through both nostrils where Inhalation will be short & passive. It’s similar like kapalbhati as mentioned earlier except that, exhalation here is done through the mouth with kumbhaka(restraining breath in the nose).

2. Vyutkarma Kapalbhati

Vyutkrama Kapalbhati is similar to Jala Neti (a type of neti – nasal cleaning technique). This practice consists of sniffing water from a pot through both nostrils and expelled through the mouth. It helps to clean the nasal cavity, throat, and inflammation around the nose. Click here to learn how to perform Vyutkarma Kapalbhati with its benefits.

3. Sheetkrama Kapalbhati

Sheetkrama Kapalbhati is the opposite process of Vyutkrama Kapalbhati. It requires sucking water in through the mouth and expelled through the nose. Sheetkrama removes the wrinkles of the face, glows the face. It also cleans the mucous membrane of the nose that allows breathing well. Click here to learn how to perform Sheetkrama Kapalbhati with its benefits.

Kapalbhati Side effects

Kapalbhati is a great way to strengthen body, mind and relief stress only when performed in a limit. If it’s performed improperly and excessively, there are some side effects also.

  1. Since kapalbhati is directly associated with the abdominal and respiratory system, it takes overwork from these systems. Therefore it can lead to a hernia, hydrocele, and heart-related problems.
  2. Improper guidance sometimes can cause to spinal disorders.
  3. Performing kapalbhati with excessive strokes can cause dizziness, obstruction in the nasal cavity.
  4. Excessive practice from the first day leads to dry mouth, pain in abdominal muscles and vomiting sensation.

Kapalbhati Precautions

  1. Kapalbhati is an advanced level breathing technique so before start practising it, begin with some basic level pranayama like alternate breathing.
  2. People having abdominal ulcers should avoid performing kapalbhati.
  3. Women during pregnancy and menstruating should avoid kapalbhati.
  4. People suffering from a respiratory issue like asthma & high blood pressure should not do it with much effort.
  5. While starting pranayama, one should know their limit and accordingly decide the working period.

Kapalbhati Pranayama FAQs

  1. How long should I do Kapalbhati for maximum benefits? 

    Normally if you’re healthy & not taking a long gap between consecutive rounds, you can do kapalbhati for 10-15 minutes for maximum benefits. If you have been a long time practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama then in this 15 minutes period you can cover 3 rounds of kapalbhati comprises 50 breaths each round.

  2. What should I perform before & after the kapalbhati practice? 

    In the morning, after OM chant you can begin your yoga session with kapalbhati breath itself because it stimulates the dormant body organs.
    Then after kapalbhati, other yoga asanas can be done or if you want to end the practice, do it by performing some subtle breathing exercises like anulom vilom pranayama.  

  3. Can Kapalbhati be a good exercise for runners?

    Yes, it’s. As runners need to have a good lung capacity for long runs, kapalbhati breathing exercise improves the elasticity of the lungs for this. Also, runners can try opting vajrasana for practicing kapalbhati instead of simple padmasana.  

  4. Will it harmful if I practice kapalbhati pranayama morning as well as in the evening too?

    As long as you’re feeling comfortable in your practice, there is no harm. Also, if you want to practice kapalbhati two times a day, it can be practiced without any objection. 
    Only harm comes in kapalbhati when you do it with the wrong posture such as an arched spine. Also, an overrate of breathing can lead to a rise in blood pressure too. 

References

  1. Lung volumes and Alveolar ventilation: https://aiimsrishikesh.edu.in/documents/lung_volumes_alveolar_ventilation.pdf
  2. Shallow breathing means: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shallow_breathing
  3. Who is André Van Lysebeth: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9_Van_Lysebeth
  4. Effect of kapalbhati on mental health and respiratory parameters https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/handle/10603/274948
  5. Massage Therapy Effects on Cerebrospinal Fluid Neurochemistry https://grantome.com/grant/NIH/R21-AT004127-02
  6. Effect of 6 Weeks of Kapalabhati Pranayama Training on Peak Expiratory Flow Rate in Young https://www.researchgate.net/
  7. Medical Definition of Melanin https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=4340
  8. The Oxygen Paradox: https://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/ava-shamban-your-skin-and-your-health/the-oxygen-paradox/
  9. Obesity in the United States https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesity_in_the_United_States
  10. How to Boost Your Metabolism With Exercise
    https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/how-to-boost-your-metabolism
  11. Effect Of Kapalbhati Pranayama On Waist And Hip
    Circumference https://www.jemds.com/data_pdf/5_dinkar.pdf
  12. Effect of Kapalbhati on Body Fat Percentage http://efsupit.ro
  13. Effect of Kapalbhati Pranayama on Body Mass Index and
    Abdominal Skinfold Thickness https://www.systemanatura.com/content/uploads/2016/04/Kapalbhati_BMI.pdf
  14. Effect of Kapalbhati Pranayama in the blood sugar level in diabetic patients http://jprsolutions.info/files/final-file-5b97239707b980.36193502.pdf

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