Kapalbhati Pranayama is a rapid breathing technique of pranayama where the exhalation is forceful with natural inhalation. It is one of the popular pranayamas which has several health benefits.
The word “Kapalbhati” is derived from two words:
- Kapala which means “skull” and includes all the organs inside the skull too, and
- bhati which means “shinning”, or“illuminating”.
It is a fast breathing technique of Hatha Yoga and is an important component of Shatkarma or shatkriya, a set of the yogic system which is a method of internal body cleansing techniques.
Generally in this pranayama, the air is inhaled normally and exhaled forcibly with the help of the abdominal muscles. Inhalation produces contraction of the diaphragm which applies pressure on the abdominal organs and eventually pushes them upwards which leads to forcible exhalation.
Kapalbhati technique also tones the internal organs and improves their functions. Besides, it purifies blood, increases the supply of oxygen in the body, and detoxifies the lungs and respiratory tracts. Kapalbhati Pranayama also helps to improve respiratory problems, cardiovascular parameters, digestion, and concentration and helps to treat stress, PCOS, and lose abdominal fat.
It is highly recommended for those who have to involve in a massive study and require a clean, and clear mind.
Types of Kapalbhati Pranayama
There are mainly 03 types of Kapalbhati pranayama which are as follows:
- Vatakrama Kapalbhati – Also known as wind cleansing technique. It is a basic form of Kapalbhati pranayama which is performed in a group where emphasization should be on exhalation with passive inhalation.
- Vyutkrama Kapalbhati – Also known as sinus cleansing technique. It is similar to jala neti and you need a bowl of mildly salted warm water to perform. First, sniff the water through the nostrils and let the water flow down into the mouth, and then spit the water out from the mouth.
- Sheetkrama Kapalbhati – Also known as mucus cleansing technique. It is the opposite of vyutkarma where you need to take warm salty water through your mouth and spit it out from the nostrils.
Health Benefits of Kapalbhati Pranayama
Kapalbhati Pranayama is proven to have many health benefits, some of which include:
Cures Respiratory Problems
Respiratory illness is a common problem that affects people of all ages. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the main organ affected was the Lungs which caused many respiratory problems such as cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain were the main among many others.
Kapalbhati pranayama improves respiratory parameters such as Tidal Volume (TV), Expiratory Reserve Volume (ERV), Inspiratory Reserve Volume (IRV), Vital Capacity (VC), and Inspiratory Capacity. 
Besides, kapalbhati makes full use of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles in breathing. It helps to remove secretions from the bronchial tree and clears respiratory passages and the alveoli (tiny air sacs which work as the functional unit of the lungs) which in turn, makes room for more air. 
It also improves circulation which in turn reduces inflammation of respiratory passages by clearing the secretions and weak and damaged airways. This makes Kapalbhati useful for individuals with moderate to severe COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). 
Apart from the above, a study also found that performing 10 min of Kapalbhati enhanced forced expiratory volume (FEV1), forced vital capacity (FVC), and FEV1: FVC ratio in patients with mild to moderate asthma.
Helps to Reduce Stress
In today’s fast-paced, and highly competitive environment, getting stressed is very common. Stress can be physical or psychological and can cause many health problems.
The regular practice of Kapalbhati pranayama can help you reduce stress.
Kapalbhati increases the volume of the lungs which leads to better oxygenation of the brain and heart in spite of low heart rate. As a result, it produces emotional stability and controlled responses to a stressful environment. It also improves the autonomic function of the automatic nervous system by balancing the two components (sympathetic and parasympathetic) activity which is beneficial in stress-related disorders. 
Besides, a study has proved that practicing fast breathing pranayama (like Kapalbhati) for 30 min/day, and 3 times/week for 12 weeks significantly reduces PSS (Perceived Stress Scale) score.
Another study noticed that practicing pranayama including Kapalbhati for 2 months, and 1 hour/day for 5 days/week reduces stress levels.
Helps to Lose Fat
Practicing Kapalbhati helps you to reduce abdominal fat and waist-hip ratio.
It does so by increasing the synchronous discharge from various body parts that regulate the endocrine and metabolic processes. As a result, it causes an increase in basal metabolic rate, and calorie consumption, and decreases fat deposition which leads to weight loss. 
This decrease in body weight causes a change in body fat distribution and hence reduces both waist circumference and hip circumference. 
May Improve Eyesight
Exercise is one among many ways to improve eyesight.
A short-term study observed that practicing Kapalbhati pranayama with eye exercise techniques such as blinking and splashing 2 times/day for 8 weeks regularly showed a significant improvement in VRT (Visual Reaction Time).
The reason inferred that Kapalbhati improves the oxygenation of blood in the body which helps in better nourishment of all the structures of the eyeball and the nerves. Kapalbhati pranayama also relieves strain on the eyes and refreshes the mind reflected as improvement in the VRT.
Improves Concentration and Alertness
Practicing Kapalbhati pranayama nourishes the central nervous system which helps to build greater arousal, a faster rate of information processing, and improves concentration power and ability to ignore distractions.
Practicing Kapalbhati also improves mental strength, and the ability to quickly respond, and helps to become psychologically more stable and mentally more capable. 
Additionally, a study at the International Journal of Yoga investigated the effect of Kapalbhati pranayama on psychomotor performance in three different age groups (medical students, middle-aged adults, and older persons).
Following results noted during the study
- A decrease in total errors in the younger and medical students group.
- No changes in total errors in the middle age and older person groups.
- But, net scores were higher after Kapalbhati in these two groups by 32.5% and 16.4%, respectively.
PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome is a common disorder in women of reproductive age group worldwide.
According to the WHO estimation, PCOS has affected up to 50–80 million women worldwide.
The following factors are known to link with PCOS: 
- insulin resistance
- genetic factors
- increased stress
Treatment strategies that target treating the above factors can be beneficial.
Long-term Kapalbhati practice effectively treats insulin resistance by improving the blood supply to muscles and insulin receptor expression in the muscles. It also directly stimulates the pancreas to release insulin which enhances weak glucose tolerance. 
Besides, abdominal obesity is also associated with insulin resistance and PCOS.  Weight reduction is beneficial in decreasing insulin levels and also in regulating ovulation, which in turn, improves the chances of getting pregnant. 
As Kapalbhati is proven to reduce abdominal fat and weight, it can be used to treat PCOS effectively.
Improves the Kidneys Function
Kidneys filter out the urea and release creatinine as waste products through urine. A rise in the concentration of blood urea and creatinine in the blood is an indicator of improper functioning of the kidneys.
So, treating these problems requires treating the kidneys.
Practicing 1 min of Kapalbhati decreases the concentration of Blood urea (a nitrogenous waste product of protein metabolism) and Creatinine (a waste product of muscle and protein metabolism), and increases the concentration of Tyrosine (an amino acid). 
This is due to Kapalbhati which promotes decarboxylation and oxidation mechanisms which is helpful in treating these problems.
Incomplete digestion often results in digestive problems such as bloating, stomach pain, acidity, fatty liver, appendicitis, gas trouble etc.
Kapalbhati can be used as a treatment for digestive problems as well.
It aids in digestion by massaging internal digestive glands, which in turn, helps in enhanced absorption of micronutrients.
Additionally, one research also showed that practicing Kapalbhati helps improve gastrointestinal health and digestive problems.
Improves Cardiovascular Parameters
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one of the leading causes of death in the world.
Factors such as hypertension, smoking, alcohol use, low physical activity, high blood pressure, glucose intolerance, diabetes, abdominal obesity, and insufficient vegetable and fruit intake contribute to the prevalence of CVD. [11, 12]
Kapalbhati is known to regulate the brain–pancreas–endocrine pathway which helps to reduce excess insulin and elevation of lipids in the blood.
It stretches the abdominal wall which regenerates the pancreatic cells which in turn increases the absorption and utilization of glucose in tissues. Besides, Kapalbhati directly stimulates the pancreas to release insulin to prevent high levels of sugar or glucose in the blood. 
Various studies also proved practicing Kapalbhati improves cardiac parameters such as Systolic Blood Pressure (SBP), Diastolic Blood Pressure (DBP), Heart Rate, Fasting Blood Sugar, and Post Prandial Blood Sugar. [13, 14, 15]
How to Do Kapalbhati Pranayama?
It is advised to perform any form of exercise in the early morning, Kapalbhati Pranayama is no exception.
Kapalbhati Pranayama can be performed in the following sequence:
Step 1 – Pose
Choose a clean and quiet environment (outdoor/indoor), Sit comfortably on a yoga mat in the padmasana or sukhasana pose and place your hands on the knees so that the palms face upward and fold the index finger of both hands, such that they touch the thumb. Make sure to relax your stomach muscles so that they can move freely.
Now, keep your spine straight, relax your shoulders and keep your eyes closed, then bring your concentration or focus to the lower belly.
Step 2 – Inhale
Make your breathing gentle and then take a deep breath through both nostrils until your lungs are full of air.
Step 3 – Exhale
Now exhale through both the nostrils forcefully, and pull your stomach inward so that your stomach goes deep inside. You can also use your right hand to gently press on the lower belly.
This is done to forcefully push the breath out in a short burst and to feel some pressure in your stomach. Remember that your focus should be mainly on exhalation.
Step 4 – Repeat
Repeat this process for at least 20 cycles to complete one round.
Duration of Kapalbhati Pranayama Practice
To practice this exercise you need to perform three rounds of 5–10 minute sessions at least twice a day, each consisting of 60 to 120 breaths per round.
It is advised to take a little rest of 2-1 minutes after each set.
As a beginner, you can start with 20 breaths each round and increase by adding 10 – 15 breaths each round each week. So that after 6 or 7 weeks you can reach up to 120 breaths per round.
The Downside of Kapalbhati Pranayama
Although practicing Kapalbhati pranayama brings various health benefits. But pushing the body above its normal functioning can produce adverse side effects.
One case of spontaneous pneumothorax has been reported on performing Kapalbhati pranayama on an extreme level. Spontaneous pneumothorax is a sudden collapsed lung (complete lung collapse or only a portion of the collapsed lung) without any cause. It occurs when air leaks into the space between the lung and chest wall.
Other minor cases of adverse effects on the musculoskeletal system, the nervous system, and the eyes have been reported.
By practicing of Kapalbhati pranayama under the supervision of experts can reduce the above adverse effects.
Precautions to be Kept in Mind to Perform Kapalbhati Pranayama Safely
- Keep your back and neck erect throughout the procedure.
- Inhale through both nostrils and exhale rapidly by flapping the abdominal.
- Practice this pranayama after 2 hours of a meal or on an empty stomach.
- Keep the stomach, bladder, and bowels empty while performing the pranayama.
- If you have lower back issues, high blood pressure, or headaches, then perform the process after consulting an expert.
- You should stop or rest if any sensations of dizziness or unsteadiness occur during practicing this pranayama.
Kapalbhati pranayama is a breathing practice having many physical as well as mental health benefits. It is a form of Yoga that helps in the purification of the lungs and is proven to cure many respiratory problems. Doing 20 minutes of Kapalbhati pranayama is beneficial in many ways and helps a person to concentrate and improve focus on his day-to-day activities. Always start slowly and stay consistent if you find it beneficial.
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