Kapalabhati (कपालभाति) Lustrous Breath in Yoga
Kapalabhati, कपालभाति or “Lustrous Breath,” is one of the extremely energizing and vitalizing breathing techniques. In a short period of time, it brings a great volume of oxygen into the body, helps to warm and invigorate the vital organs, and aids in circulating blood quickly throughout the entire body.
In preparation to practice Lustrous Breath, assume a comfortable seated position as described in “Alternate Nostril Breathing.” Allow your hands to rest gently on your kneecaps, thighs, or in your lap. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Now, as you breathe through your nose, contract your abdomen as you exhale. Press your navel toward your spine as you expel whatever air is in your abdomen. (See Fig. 16.3.) As soon as the air is expelled, let your abdomen relax as your body naturally inhales fresh air. Then, exhale once again, as you contract your abdomen. Let your emphasis be on the quick, rapid, and forceful (but not forced or painful!) exhalation of air from your abdomen. Your abdomen flattens as you compress it on the exhalation, and the air naturally fills it again as you inhale. Continue exhaling and inhaling in this manner. The rapid contraction and filling of your abdomen as air is expelled and inhaled creates a type of pumping motion. If you have difficulty practicing Lustrous Breath, you might imagine that there is a feather resting on the top of your nose and you are trying to blow it off, contracting the muscles of your abdomen to initiate the exhalation. As you exhale, compress your bellybutton back toward your spine.
As you practice this breathing technique, you may want to have a handkerchief or some tissues at hand. You may find mucous secretions being more actively released from your nose on your forceful exhalations. Lustrous Breath has the added benefit of helping clear and cleanse the nasal passageways.
When you first begin to practice Lustrous Breath, try doing 20 to 30 Lustrous Breaths at a time (one active exhalation followed by a spontaneous inhalation constitutes one Lustrous Breath). Pause and rest. Then try some more. With experience, you will probably find that you can increase the period of time and numbers of inhalations and exhalations that you can accomplish without feeling fatigued.
Lustrous Breath can be particularly invigorating and energizing. As you experiment with it, see what effect it has on you. How do you feel after a round of Lustrous Breath repetitions? How do you feel relative to how you felt before you began this breathing practice? Are you aware of any difficulties or pleasurable effects that you experience as a result of this practice? As your day progresses, are you aware of any changes in your level of energy? Feel the importance of kapalbhati in yoga.