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Kapalbhati Pranayama

Happy International Women's Day today!

As we celebrate women all over the world, I wanted to empower you with my newest discovery of a self-care ritual you will want to add to your morning routine in the spring.

Recently, I discovered Kapalbhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath), which is a traditional internal cleansing technique that some believe can bring a natural face glow when practiced regularly.  As we transition from winter to spring, this breathing, cleansing technique can truly be beneficial for many of us!

As some of you may know, I'm currently studying Ayurvedic medicine.  And part of the certification is dedicated to exploring different tools and techniques ourselves so we learn their benefits and best practices.

In case you missed my previous blog post, Ayurveda is a healthy-lifestyle system that people in India have used for more than 5,000 years. It emphasizes good health and prevention and treatment of illness through lifestyle practices. These include practices such as massage, meditation, yoga, and dietary changes. Herbal remedies are often used as well. 

Ayurvedic medicine is preventative and holistic, which means viewing the body and mind as a whole. The philosophy works to change lifestyle practices to maintain or improve health in addition to addressing the physical complaints as well. 

Before we get into Kapalbhati Pranayama specifically, I wanted to backtrack and briefly talk about Pranayama and what that is.

 

Pranayama

Pranayama is the ancient practice of breath regulation and is a main component of yoga.  In Sanskrit, prana means life energy and yama means control.  With these breathing exercises, you will purposely inhale, exhale, and hold your breathe in a specific pattern.

Yoga is made up of different practices including pranayama, asanas or physical postures, and dhyana or meditation.  However, you can practice pranayama alone since it has many benefits of its own due to therapeutic effects of the breathing patterns and mindfulness.

The goal of practicing pranayama is connecting your mind and body while supplying your body with oxygen and prana (our vital life force) and removing toxins.  If you are feeling stuck or some stagnation in your body as well as depletion in your mind or body, pranayama can really help.

Some benefits of practicing pranayama may include decreasing stress and anxiety, increasing mindfulness, improving sleep quality, improving lung function, reducing high blood pressure or hypertension, enhancing brain function, and reducing cigarette cravings.

The right springtime pranayama is super helpful in balancing Kapha and can help cleanse the sinuses, increase body temperature, and boost digestion.  The digestion can be a bit sluggish during spring, which is often the root cause of asthma and upper respiratory issues.  

Best time of day to practice pranayama in the spring is during the Kapha time of the morning which is 6-10am.  You can combat the Kapha in your body (congestion, heaviness, lethargy, sluggishness) with these warming and energizing pranayama exercises.  There's quite a few different breathing exercises you can practice in the early spring mornings:

  • shining skull (kapalbhati)
  • bellows breathe (bastrika) - another amazing spring pranayama that fires up the digestive process
  • breathe of fire (agni prasana)
  • right nostril breathing (surya bhedana

Please note that the best way to get started is with a trained, licensed practitioner like a yoga expert; refrain from practicing some of the more advanced exercises by yourself.

Kapalbhati Pranayama

kapal = skull
bhati = shining or illuminating

Kapalbhati pranayama consists of short but strong exhales followed by passive inhales and has a very specific cleansing effect on the nasal passageways, literally cleansing the skull and the brain.  It's perfect for spring since this exercise may actually help alleviate spring allergies for any of you who are sensitive to pollen.  Kapalbhati is great at getting rid of stale air in your lungs and replacing it with fresh prana.

Practice this on an empty stomach and not near bedtime.  Do be careful and refrain from practicing this breathe technique if you have high blood pressure or currently have a lot of congestion in one or both of your nostrils.  If you have lower back issues, hypertension, or chronic headaches, perform this under care and supervision.  And tip, keep some tissues nearby because chances are you're going to need it!

Some benefits of kapalbhati pranayama include:

  • cleanses respiratory and nasal passageway
  • activates your body and removes lethargy
  • aids in digestion
  • natural face glow
  • strengthen your lungs and increasing its capacity
  • increase blood flow to your stomach, liver and pancreas
  • tones your digestive organs
  • strengthens your nervous system
  • improved memory, focus, and concentration
  • energizes mind
  • tones your abdominal muscles
  • regular practice can help with weight + belly fat loss

If you have already practiced bellows breathe bhastrika pranayama, you'll notice the one major difference.  In bhastrika, both inhalations and exhalations are forced whereas in kapalbhati, only the exhalations are forced.

Steps of Kapalbhati Pranayama

  1. Sit comfortably in the cross-legged position with your spine straight.  This helps open your chest up to fully use your lungs during this breathing exercise.  If you are suffering from back issues, you can do this technique while resting against the wall, bed frame, or another surface that helps keep your back straight.
  2. Take three natural breathes to prepare.  Close your eyes if you can (unless you're watching an instructor and learning this technique).
  3. Inhale naturally and comfortably, then exhale forcefully, sharply, and quickly through your nose by contracting your abdominal muscles.  You should be drawing your belly in as you exhale.  Focus on your lower belly.  If you need to, place your hand gently on your lower belly to help you isolate an contract that area.
  4. Relax your abdominal muscles to allow for a natural inhalation and not use any force.  Your lungs will automatically inflate with air.
  5. Repeat this 10-20 times at about one exhale-inhale cycle every 1-2 seconds.  If you need to, pace yourself slowly at first.
  6. End on an exhalation, then take three more natural breathes.
  7. Practice up to three cycles of this.

A few tips and tricks:

  • Allow enough time between exhalations so go on your own pace and slow down if you need to
  • Make sure you aren't forcing the inhalations
  • Don't drop your chin
  • Relax your face
  • Don't move anything except for your abdominal muscles
  • Don't hunch over or slouch, keep straight to open up your lungs
  • Focus on your breathe and be present and mindful, don't think about anything else while doing this exercise
  • Have tissues nearby

You can put a little bit of properly diluted organic essential oils like peppermint or eucalyptus on your wrist while practicing this breathing technique.  It'll help open up your airways even more.  Again, it is important that what you put on your skin is organic and not therapeutic grade (which is like the word "natural" - it's not as pure and high quality as it's marketed).  I absolutely love our breathe easy balm on my chest and wrist for this practice.  You can also use the allergy relief balm if you have that instead.

 

I hope that gives you some ideas on amazing daily morning routine practices you can add during the spring time especially if you're feeling a big sluggish or suffering from spring allergies.  Let me know if this is helping you or if you have any further questions about this!  Go try this when you can, feel refreshed and empowered, and get out there to kick butt with whatever you do!
 

 

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