Not sure what it is? We’ll explain below!
What is it?
Shining Skull Breath AKA Kapalbhati (Bhalabhai in the Gherand Samhita), is one of the Shatkarma body cleansing techniques (sometimes known as Shatkriya). The word kapalbhati is made up of two words: kapal meaning “skull” (and all the organs in it) and bhati meaning “shining, illuminating.”
The implication is that the head and its tissues are influenced in a good way. But when practiced, students notice a tingling fuzziness in the front of the brow. Kapalbhati is seen as stimulation for ajna chakra, adding another dimension to the name Shining Skull. For this reason, it’s also called Frontal Lobe Cleansing.
It’s many other things as well. Shining Skull Breath provides opportunities to practice bandha work, and to balance one’s panic reaction. Its action stimulates good gut health and therefore good digestion.
It’s credited with many other curative effects – I found one resource claiming kapalbhati removes 80% of the toxins in one’s body. Over time, there’s no doubt it has a tremendously positive effect. Whether it really can cure old age and disease or not can only be found out
How is it done?
There are many descriptions of the technique on the web and in Yoga books. They are all
pretty similar, but not exactly the same. In general, all suggest:
– Work in a steady and comfortable seated or kneeling position
– Ideally, the student is already capable of applying bandhas (mulabandha, uddhyiana, jalandhara). Not being able to do these is not a barrier to practice though.
– Apply mulabandha (squeeze and lift centre and base of pelvic floor).
– Apply jalandhara bandha (drop chin to chest and draw the skull back; lift the chest)
– Take relaxed inhales
– Create forced exhales by drawing belly muscles in and up: from the base of the belly, almost lifting upper abdominals under lower ribs).
– Take 10-30 breaths.
– Hold the final exhale position until you feel the desire to breathe. Don’t push into gasping for air.
– Release your body and inhale gently. Some sources say release pelvic floor, then belly, then neck: other sources recommend the opposite sequence.
– It feels nice to lift the chin whilst extending your neck and hold the inhale for a little while.
– Do 2-3 rounds every day – it’s best practiced first thing, on an empty stomach.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes three different types of Shining Skull Breath AKA Kapalbhati:
– Vatakrama kapalabhati, a practice similar to Bhastrika (pranayama exercise)
– Vyutkrama kapalabhati: similar to Jala neti, it involves sniffing water through the nostrils and letting it flow down into the mouth and then spitting it out.
– Sheetkrama kapalabhati: the opposite of Vyutkrama kapalabhati, in which water is taken through the mouth and then expelled through the nose.
Most people don’t use water. You should only attempt it with water under the guidance of a qualified teacher who regularly practices with water themselves.
What are its effects?
Rhythmically pumping the abdominals massages the internal organs and stimulates peristalsis (flow of food through the gut). We all enjoy therapeutic massage, and understand how beneficial it is for muscles. It’s the same for all the important tissues in the belly.
Furthermore, metering inhales, exhales and breath retentions in this way gently and gradually changes your relationship to panic and alarm. There’s no greater panic than not being able to breathe. Whilst we never push into that sensation, we nudge gently at our own boundaries. The stress reaction becomes a little less automatic, and a little more optional in everyday life.
The fuzzy head sensation that results for a few moments is really quite unique. No one can scientifically say for sure whether chakras really exist. However, you can get a sense for what ajna chakra might feel like when you practice kapalbhati. Of course, you could be
When to do / not to do it?
Always work with a qualified teacher who regularly practices this themselves. Listen to their instructions, and discuss how you feel. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika does warn that some people do not need it and should not practice it, so be prepared to review for yourself but do give it a proper go first.
Don’t practice this in the way described if you are pregnant/ new mother, menstruating or have had recent abdominal surgery. Again, seek out advice from people who have experienced kapalbhati whilst dealing with these life events for themselves.