Although pranayama has by now been coopted by most of us in a matter-of-fact sort of way, there is still a lot of misinformation around one of its forms called Kapalbhati. Now this is a conjunction of two words, kapal (forehead, frontal lobe) and bhati (shine). A forehead that shines simply means an awakened and enlightened mind. And that surely requires mastery. Consider it a higher level of breath regulation that comes with practice and effort.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF KAPALBHATI?
It is a highly energising pranayama, which stimulates the frontal lobe of the brain and activates the sleeping centres and cells. Thus, it is beneficial for children as it helps in better focus, concentration and higher brain performance. It helps expel carbon dioxide (CO2) from the lungs and stimulates the cerebrospinal spinal fluid, which is compressed with every exhalation. This is the reason it is prescribed for asthma patients as it helps them get rid of the CO2 trapped in the lungs and improve oxygen levels in their blood, resulting in better performance of all organs and systems of the body. This is why it energises and is heat-producing. People living in colder climes are advised to practise it to generate body heat and awaken their minds and bodies as they tend to slip into depression.
And when air pollution is a concern, Kapalhati practitioners can actually detoxify their lungs, clear airways and nasal passageways, increase lung capacity, perk up the nervous system and abdominal organs. In short, it gets the whole body moving by using its full capacities and significantly ups metabolism. That’s how it helps in losing overall body fat though it is mistakenly believed to be the reason for busting your belly fat.
THE RIGHT WAY OF PRACTISING A ROUTINE
It requires precision and a high threshold as you pull your stomach in and take it closer to your spine as much as you can, resulting in severe contraction of your abdominal muscles. Then as you gradually relax your stomach, you exhale air in a short burst, which is almost forced out of your system, resulting in a hissing sound. After this move, you automatically breathe in a lot of fresh air. As the toxins get released, you can literally feel the fresh air filling your lungs.
IT IS NOT A FAD AND HAS A DISCIPLINE OF ITS OWN
Since this pranayama involves a lot of forceful breaths, sharp abdominal crunches and primes your body for an energy surge, it should be done delicately but with elevated mind-body awareness and calmness. You shouldn’t do more than the mandated rounds with the hope of losing belly fat. That can, in fact, be harmful. And this is where people go wrong, this pranayama must be done in moderation. You can begin with three rounds each of around 10-20 breaths and then increase the count to 30-40 rounds over a period of time.
WHAT ARE CONTRAINDICATIONS FOR KAPALBHATI?
Since it involves forced muscle movements, it should not be attempted by those who have high BP, heart condition or are simply hyperactive people. Women who are either menstruating or menopausal should not do the Kapalbhati. As you draw in big breaths and exhale them forcefully, the upper body shudders up and down. These internal spasm-like waves jolt all organs. And when you force the air pressure downwards, you end up exerting extreme force on your uterus, squeezing it and causing damage. Hyperventilation is certainly not good for your health if you have an artificial pacemaker or stent, epilepsy, hernia, backache, slip disc, or have recently undergone abdominal surgery. Even if healthy, never attempt this without expert guidance.
(Kamini Bobde is a Kundalini practitioner who follows the Swami Satyananda Saraswati tradition of yoga. She is the author of Kundalini Yoga for All: Unlock the Power of Your Body and Brain. Published by Penguin)