In our yoga classes this term we have begun to work with Kapalbhati Pranayama (other names include Shining Skull Breath or Breath of Fire). This is a practice which is cleansing and energising – the forceful exhalation clears out the nasal passageways and the pulling force of the abdomen stimulates and strengthens the abdominal muscles and organs. When you have got the hang of this practice it literally takes 5 minutes and you feel strong and ready for anything! It will make sit ups a thing of the past.
This makes you feel good because the blood is enriched with more oxygen than your usual breathing which is fantastic for your circulation, renewing body tissue and helping your nerves and metabolism. There really is no other practice in any sport or exercise like it – which can make it difficult to understand and get into.
The following guide is meant as a supplement to our class work. It’s always best to learn from an experience teacher and exercise caution – building up the tummy muscles gradually and the bodies’ capacity to deal with the changes. If you feel dizzy at any time you should stop and sit still until you feel better. People suffering from high blood pressure, eye problems, hernia or recovering from any abdominal injury or operation should not do this practice. IF IT HURTS OR MAKES YOU DIZZY THEN STOP
The body should be prepared over some weeks before even having a go. A gentle way to do this is to lay on your back in the semi supine position and work with leg raises and apanasana (knees to chest) to bring your awareness to your abdominal muscles and strengthen them. In class we worked with a routine called Mooncat (which I have given as half term homework). This sequence of postures includes the cat and cow, half moon pose and plank – all of which work the abdominal muscles.
Further preparation is required to understand abdominal breathing and our breathing process in general. Visualise air travelling into the body thought the nose and down into the abdomen allowing the abdomen to swell and then visualise the air travelling back out up through the body and out through the nose squeezing the abdominal muscles increasingly tighter with each round. You can begin practising in the semi supine position and then move onto a sitting posture. For more information about abdominal breathing read this post.
To practice Kapalbhati – (it is very important to have taken the steps to prepare, this lays the foundation for your success)
Sit in a comfortable seated posture (one that you can hold and feels as if your back is upright and if someone came along and gave you a shove you wouldn’t fall over)
The back must be upright and the crown of the head up towards the ceiling
The hands resting on the knees, shoulders and elbows relaxed – use your favourite mudra
Close the eyes and relax the whole body – especially the abdominal area
Inhale a deep abdominal breath and then pull the abdominal muscles back to force and exhale back out through the nostrils
The next inhale happens passively as you relax the abdomen then pull the abdominals back again to force the exhale out through the nose.
Continue pumping the air out like this for 10 – 20 rounds or less if your tummy feels tired.
Relax and then take a deep slow inhale, pause gently then exhale smoothly and slowly.
This concludes 1 round, begin again and practice up to 3 rounds.
Always practice with awareness – keep your mind on what you are doing. Stop at once if you feel faint or dizzy.