Kapalabhati - with rapid breathing to the "luminous skull"

You already know that yoga and breathing are inseparable and have a lot of health benefits - in our blog post on pranayama we have already introduced you to the first breathing exercises and briefly explained them.

Today I would like to go into a very specific breathing exercise: Kapalabhati, my favorite companion on tired mornings.

What is Kapalabhati?

If you have ever attended a yoga class, it may well be that you already know Kapalabhati by a different name and maybe even have practiced it before - does “fire breathing” or “rapid breathing” mean something to you?

If not, it doesn't matter: Kapalabhati is a breathing exercise from the yoga world, which is also known as fire breathing. The exhalation plays a crucial role in this exercise.

This creates the classic effect that is already reflected in the name of the exercise: the word kapala means skull, while bhati stands for the light or glow - so the purpose of the exercise is to make the skull "light up". And Kapalabhati can do that without a doubt.

Step-by-step instructions: This is how rapid breathing works

As already mentioned, the highlight of this breathing technique is that the full concentration is on the exhalation and the inhalation takes place "on the side". In one sentence, Kapalabhati would be explained as simply breathing out quickly and powerfully over and over again - easier said than done, because rapid breathing needs a little practice for it to work properly.

Here we explain the individual steps in more detail:

  1. First, sit comfortably and upright. You can sit cross-legged or heel-seated. It is important that your back is straight and you can really breathe freely. You are welcome to use a cushion or a meditation bench to help - not only do you sit more comfortably, but you also automatically create length in your back and can sit up better.
  2. Now you should consciously and slowly breathe in and out several times to prepare. Feel free to breathe deeply into your stomach - if you still feel tight somewhere, you can now change your sitting position again.
  3. Everything clear and you sit well? Then we now come to the main part of the exercise: After the conscious slow inhalation, short, snorting exhalations follow through the nose.

To help you, imagine that you have a piece of paper under your nose that you want to blow away with a quick snort.

As you exhale quickly, your abdomen and diaphragm should jerk inward. Feel free to place your hand on your stomach for a few breaths to check - if it pulls inwards when you breathe out, you're doing it right.

  1. You don't have to breathe in consciously. Your body does this automatically - yes really, even if it may feel strange at first. :)
  2. During the exercise, remain mindful and focus on the exhalation. Feel how your body breathes in and you are supplied with fresh oxygen and new energy. At the beginning you can start with about 30 exhalations per exercise - as always with yoga, the same applies here: Do it at your own pace and your own intensity!
  3. After an interval, you should exhale fully, then take a short pause to hold your breath and explore before moving on to the next round. Only hold your breath for as long as it feels good for you and then take a deep breath.
  4. Then you can go back to step two and repeat the exercise. How many repetitions you do is of course entirely up to you. At the beginning, two to three laps are already a very good performance!

"Luminous Skull" - is that even healthy?

Admittedly, when I first practiced Kapalabhati, for a brief moment I had the image of a person who is hyperventilating and therefore has to breathe into a bag - so from the outside and at the beginning the breathing exercise might seem a little strange and you ask himself: "Okay, and that's supposed to be healthy?"

The answer is yes. Rapid breathing brings with it a host of health benefits, both for the body and for the mind. The exercise not only brings clarity and energy and thus sharpens awareness, but...

  • enriches the blood with more oxygen
  • supports various metabolic processes
  • stimulates the circulation
  • cleans the lungs
  • can strengthen the lungs and increase lung volume
  • can relieve breathing difficulties and respiratory diseases
  • and prevent colds
  • makes you awake and fresh

As you can see, it is definitely worth giving Kapalabhati a chance and trying out the exercise.

Contraindications and risks: For whom rapid breathing is unsuitable

As with all exercises, there are unfortunately contraindications for Kapalabhati, which speak against carrying out this breathing technique.

In the first place, Kapalabhati should be avoided by those with problems in the lungs. These include diseases such as

  • Asthma,
  • COPD
  • or other medical conditions that may be adversely affected by breathing too quickly.

This also applies to people who have heart disease or severe high blood pressure, as Kapalabhati can have an unfavorable effect on the cardiovascular system in this case. Even with an acute herniated disc, the exercise can have a negative effect on the back and should therefore be avoided at first. Finally, pregnant people and people with epilepsy should not practice Kapalabhati.

If in doubt, please ask your doctor or the yoga teacher you trust beforehand whether you can do the exercise without hesitation.

Kapalabhati in pregnancy

Opinions differ as to whether Kapalabhati can and should be performed during pregnancy. At this point we would like to expressly advise against practicing the breath of fire during pregnancy - not only because the increased oxygen concentration in the blood can quickly lead to unpleasant feelings of dizziness, but also because the pressure on the abdominal wall can be very high during this exercise.

If you still want to do the fire breath, please talk to your doctor beforehand, take it slow and definitely refrain from holding your breath.

Utilities: Kapalabhati timer

Before we release you to the exercise, we would like to give you a small tool. It can be difficult, especially in the beginning, to find your own rhythm while concentrating on performing the exercise correctly and maintaining a steady pace.

To start with, it can therefore make sense to practice with audio support - here we have linked a suitable YouTube video that you can use.

And now: Have fun on the mat! :)

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