Kapalbhati - Everything About This Pranayama Preparation {Video Too}

Practicing Kapalbhati
Remember Andre -the first western student to visit Jois in '64?- Get this: he is quoted on the ancient Hatha Yoga Pradipika... Hmm, seriously? You may ask? Well, he is, in the commentary -done by contemporary swamis- of the edition I have-, and when they are talking about Kapalbhati:

"Andre Van Lysebeth has quoted a physiological phenomenon that during normal inhalation the fluid around the brain is compressed and so the brain contracts very slightly... forcing exhalation in kapalbhati increases the massaging effect..."

I recently wrote about Andre's book.

Kapalbathi is not technically a pranayama (i.e.: there is no possibility of retention), rather a shatkarma or a preparation so that you can handle the energetic currents that pranayama or (or breathing extension) will bring and let pass through your nervous system.

I learned it from a teacher directly, in Thailand, and within the lineage of the Kaivalyadham institute of India. That institute is home of pranayama world authority O.P.Tiwariji.  Turns out Andre studied there too.

Paul Dallaghan taught it to me, and I grateful of the level of detail that went into it.  Over the years I have practiced on-and-off and it is only now that pranayama (together with preparations) is beginning to take the shape of a daily practice, which explains why I only get to 35 fast expulsions of air in each session -see video below-. I am building up, slowly but surely, just as it happened with asanas.

I have gathered all the information necessary and compiled here it case you would like to try it. I speak from authority books, from what I learned directly, and from experience.  It is always -of course- best to learn it from a teacher, but I realize is that not many people have teachers nearby, so this is a pretty comprehensive list of things to keep in mind.  Start slow, read a bunch of times, build steady, and if pranayama is of your interest, begin reading the books recommended and find a teacher.


Before we even begin
Pranayama practices can be considered if a good a steady practice of asana is reached.  Also, Swami Rama talks about "right conditions" as in for example: good nutrition, good mental disposition etc. as well as the finer details, like practicing in an airy room, with good ventilation, not to cold and not too hot, free of distractions.

Is it Dangerous?  

No, it is not dangerous unless for some reason you decide to force yourself to do air expulsion for way much longer than your body allows,  or disrespect your body, or do not pay attention.  I  can tell you it is not dangerous because, I, myself, a person totally dedicated to yoga have only built to 35 counts...  over years!.

I believe in the west we are blessed in not having the obsession with liberation that would take any of us to force ourselves so much, besides, there is Facebook and Twitter to attend to. When I hear horror stories about people hurting themselves with pranayama they tend to come only from people who are extreme and not respecting their own body signals, just as it is the case with asanas.  Exercising intelligence here, as with everything, is key.

Andre Lysebeth says that in pranayama the only dangers appear when we start retaining breath for over 2 minutes.  Before that, we can all try, nothing to fear.  Kapalbhati does not even include retention of the breath.  The only contraindication is that you may feel dizzy if you overdo it or exhale too forcefully or if you have a serious lung or heart condition.

What are the Benefits?

1.- The name of the exercise is kapalbhati which means "skull" and "shine".  By this translation you can make your own analogy, I like to think of it as being a mind cleaner, even though it is the belly and root  muscles that get to work hard... It makes me more awake and focused, it calms me down and sends me within. I can breathe much easier after three rounds.

2.- The Pradipika says that the stimulating of the brain becomes seven times more than normal and it helps expel more carbon dioxide and other waste gases from the cells than normal breathing.  It also says:

"Impurity is the psychological stuff which manifests when you sit for meditation... through the practice of shatkarma (kapalbhati is one of the six) the centers in the physical body ... are stabilized... this works on the physical body to influence the mind, brain waves and blockages of energy"

3.- Lysebeth recommends practicing it at the beginning of each session of pranayama and even asana "to get rid of all the air remaining in the lungs and to ensure a good oxygenation of the blood"

Is this how spiritual awakening
looks like?
4.- He also mentions that it can activate centers of spiritual awakening.

5.- More oxygen in the blood

6.- General sense of well-being

7.- Lung purification by getting rid of stale air that has accumulated during years of shallow breathing

8.- Increase control of abdominal muscles

9.- Lysebeth has a whole chapter on the brain benefits of this exercise, stopping fatigue is perhaps the one that stands out for me.


1.- Pre-Preparation: Make sure your stomach is empty. Then, to start you may want to lay down on your belly and breath deeply for a few breaths to relax your stomach muscles.

You can also do neti pot if you have not performed asanas before this practice, to at least try to get both nostrils to be active.

2.- Sit in lotus or cross legged, or in siddhasana, with a straight back. The lower spine will have a slight curve so that your pelvis will be lightly tilted forward. Pay special attention to posture, it is critical.

Iyengar in Siddhasana, eyes closed, concentrated

3.- Relax shoulders and stomach, do not hold on to tension

4.- Relax all the muscles in the face

Jnana Mudra
5.-Straighten your arms and adopt jana mudra (index finger touches thumb) Again, relax the stomach

6.-Engage mula-bandha (tighten your anus).  I was taught the exercise in this way, however, Andrew says that mula bandha will eventually happen if your body is relaxed and the upper body does not move at all while practicing it.  So, if you are not sure about mula bandha, then ust be aware that eventually it will happen, and it will.

7.- Ensure that the upper portion of your body, above the diaphragm will NOT move at all, other than, well, some basic movement that you will not be able to help!

8.- Keep in mind that the focus will be put on the exhalation, do not try to even the count of how long it takes to inhale and exhale, rather the exhalation will be a bit longer and inhalation very fast.

9.- Concentrate


1.- Breathe in but not all the way to the top of the lounges, just a normal breath in.

2.- exhale forcefully, (think that the exhalation is coming from the root of your spine, from the perineum, this is just an image) but not so harsh that it is forced.  Your belly will be pushed in.

See this excerpt of Lysebeth's book in which he describes it, which is very illuminating:

"Settle in your position with straight spine and your chest blocked when full of air and concentrate on what is happening in your abdomen. The cenre of gravity fo your body must be in the lower abdomen... contract the muscles of the abdoment, especially the large straight ones, sharply. This contraction will cause a violent expulsion of air. Relax the abdomen immediatelly but slowly... Kapalabhati is a rapid succession of such sharp expulsions"

3.- Inhale quickly

4.- Exhale again forcefully, don't over-do it.

5.- Remember all the preparation points, especially that the upper body should not move.

6.- Do not tense the face

7.- Keep the hands in jana mudra

8.- It is very likely that in your first round of kalabhati you will notice that you "lose the rhythm" after 3,4 7, or 10 counts. That is your max.  You start building from there.  When I first started I could only do three per round. That is OK.

9.- Try practicing for one week, every day, at the count to which you got, and do three rounds on each sitting.

10.- In between runs stay quiet and feel the effects, it is very pleasant.

11.- It is also OK to practice three times a day

12. After a week you can add 5 more. Focus on quality a lot more than on quantity.

13.- Work until you can comfortably build to 120 per minute, which is pretty much the suggested limit.

Remain sited for a while and feel the effects of it.
You can then follow up with other pranayamas {posts to follow}, pratyahara, and focusing on object which would be nice, see: practicing all the limbs of yoga in every practice.

Rest in savasana for a few minutes.

See also:
Anuloma Viloma Paranayama (Nadi Shodhana with retention) - coming up soon
8 Things to Know About the Eight Limbs of Yoga
Pranayama Teacher Training with Tiwariji
Desikachar's Tips on How To Start Teaching Pranayama

Highly recommended reading, Pranayama, by Andre Van Lysebeth

Other pranayama book recommendations:



  1. Your on a roll Claudia, again great stuff. Ramaswami taught us to do it at the end of asana and in three sets of thirty-six, perhaps with a different arm position each set. So the first set with the hands on the knees, the next arms above the head fingers interlocked and the final set with elbows bent, raised high and the fingers on the shoulders. Guess this is how krishnamacharya taught him. he also said the difference between kapalabhati and Bhastrika was that kapalabhati was a little like sneezing and bhastrika more like coughing, love that.
    I use it all the time, at work when i'm feeling a little sleepy, if the day is dragging and I'm finding it hard to concentrate on a repair. In the evening if i'm getting sleepy and waiting for M to get home.Just anytime you need a bit of a pick me up.
    For anyone who meditates but doesn't have the time or want to get into pranayama proper a couple of rounds of this I find are perfect before sitting down to meditate.
    You'll need to bring out another book soon.

  2. At Sivananda, Kapalbathi is taught and is part of the practice used at the beginning after initial corpse pose and opening GAJANANAM DHYANA SLOKAS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baL8xKD3lgg
    to bring about focus and is a kriya clearing the bronchial tubes. Inhale is not thought of, for the inhale is automatic reaction from movement of the diaphragm. Three rounds are taught with retention after each round for same time frame. Usually start with 30 counts using second hand of watch teaching saying one-two for each rep, progressing to 45, then 60. Then the next pranayama is alternate nostril breathing with retentions, usually 5 full rounds. The time for exhale for beginning is 8 count exhale, 4 inhale, retention 16; then progressing to 10 exhale, 5 inhale, retention 20 after several days of practice of the 8,4,16. Then savasana prior to classical sun sals..

    I find this interesting that opening prayers and closing prayers taught by Vishnu Divananda in the US many years prior to Ashtanga coming to the West, Ashtanga as taught to westerners in the 70s did not include chants or prayers for K P Jois initially thought the west was not ready for this.

  3. Grimmly, thanks for that, really appreciate the pointers on how Ramaswami taunt it, we will see him again soon in the course specific for pranayama and meditation, so maybe we will learn it that way too... For acme reason, the arms up sounds like work! I am now tempted to try... I also like that explanation of cough vs sneeze, good one...

    Another interesting thing, Swami Satchitananda school, here in NYC, and probably everywhere also includes this at the end of each asana practice... I remember way back when i attended their classes how good it felt, think it was after savasana and all...

    As per the new book, don't just hold your breath yet Hee hee hee, very appropriate for a kapalbhati post,...

  4. Quentin, thanks for sharing that, sounds like the Sivananda is similar to e Integral yoga I described in the response to Grimmly, wonder if ey teach you about e band has or if they just let them happen...

    As per the mantras, I am not sure if ashtanga yoga as in Jois yoga teaches it, I have heard that Sharath has begun to teach his level 2 students, but have not heard stories so I do not know if they include mantras... But I do know that Ramaswami, another student of Ktishnamacharya does include mantras in the practice, read it in Grimmlys blog and in Ramaswamis page... I would be interested in see prayers taught by Vishnu divananda that you speak of, when I get home might take a look. Appreciate you sharing with me :-)

  5. Sir , I have one question regarding Kapalbhati
    Please answer it if you can
    Sir in kapalbhati , whether the air is expelled out of lungs by the contraction of abdomen , or contraction of an abdomen is done by itself ?


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