Kapalbhati (or Kapalabhati) is one of the six Shatkarmas or methods of internal purification in Hatha Yoga. In Sanskrit, Kapal means the skull and Bhati mean to shine or illuminate. Kapalbhati cleans the cranial sinuses and hence the name. Some include Kapalbhati as one of the Pranayama, but in the classic yogic text Hatha Yoga Pradeepika and Gheranda Samhita, it is classified under the Shatkarmas or the purification techniques.
Kapalbhati is a breathing technique where rapid inhalation and exhalation is done. The exhalation (or Rechaka) is forceful and rapid, while the inhalation (or Puraka) is normal. The holding of breath (or Kumbhaka) is not done in Kapalbhati (except when practiced along with the three Bandhas). Only inhalation and exhalation is practiced. Exhalation is the main part of Kapalbhati. The forceful exhalation throws out the stale air from the lungs and the deep inhalation increases the oxygen content in the blood. Kapalbhati purifies the nerves and the pranic Nadis. It also removes excess of Kapha (one of the three Doshas in Ayurveda) from the body.
Kapalbhati has to be practiced in a very steady posture. Padmasana, Siddhasana, and Vajrasana can be used with hands resting on the knees. These asanas are most suited to maintain the posture during the rapid breathing motion. During the practice, every part of the body vibrates and it is difficult to maintain the posture unless it is properly locked into position.
In normal breathing, inhalation is the active process while exhalation is passive. In Kapalbhati this is reversed. The abdominal muscles and the diaphragm are used to forcefully exhale the air. The abdominal muscles forcefully move inwards towards the diaphragm thereby throwing the air out. The inhalation is done in a passive relaxed way to fill the lungs with fresh air. This is practiced without any gap between two respirations.
All pranayama practices should be learned under the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor. Also, if you have any medical condition, one should consult the doctor before taking up the practice. Kapalbhati should not be practiced by those suffering from heart ailments, high blood pressure, stroke or epilepsy. Those with ulcers should do it with caution. If you had any recent surgery of the thorax and abdomen, you should avoid the practice.
How to do Kapalbhati Pranayama?
Kapalbhati has to be practiced on an empty stomach. Early morning is the best time for the practice. In the evening also one can practice if there is a gap of about 4 hours after the last meal.
To do Kapalbhati, sit in a steady posture. Padmasana, Siddhasana or Vajrasana are the most suited.
Place the hands on the knees and breathe normally.
Relax the whole body and make sure the spine is straight.
Now, breathe in and out rapidly, with exhalation being forceful. The inhalation should be passive and normal. During exhalation the belly goes inside towards the thorax, forcing out the air from the lungs. Inhalation is done with relaxation to fill the lungs again with fresh air.
Initially one can start with 11 rounds. Later increase it to 60 rounds in one minute. Each inhalation and exhalation should take just one second. Subsequently, with enough practice, you can increase the speed to 120 rounds per minute. Here, each inhalation and exhalation take only half a second. Increasing the speed of Kapalbhati beyond this may not be used as the breathing will become very shallow.
After the number of rounds, relax and breathe normally, till the breathing rate comes back to normal. The relaxation period can be roughly between 30 seconds to a minute.
Repeat this process about 3 times in the initial stages. For example, if you are practicing at a rate of 60 rounds per minute, then you would have completed a total of 180 rounds (with a gap in between after every 60 rounds, for relaxation). This completes one sitting. One may have multiple sittings – one in the morning and one in the evening.
Practice of Kapalbhati with the three Bandhas
Advanced practitioners can practice Kapalbhati along with the three Bandhas. The three Bandhas are the three locks – Moola Bandha (the perineum lock), Uddhiyana Bandha (the abdominal lock) and Jalandhara Bandha (Chin Lock). This is also called Tri-Bandha or Maha Bandha.
In this version, after 60 rounds (or 120 rounds) do a deep and forceful exhalation. Hold the breath.
Simultaneously perform the three locks – Moola Bandha, Uddhiyana Bandha, and JalandharaBandha, while holding the breath outside (also called Bahya Kumbhaka).
Remain in this position for as long as you are comfortable. One can hold the breath outside for just a few seconds in the beginning stages. As one progresses one can increase it to about one minute. Later on, one may even increase it up to two minutes. Only advanced practitioners can reach the Bahya Kumbhaka of two minutes. This is dangerous if there is no proper guidance. Always take the help of an advanced yoga instructor before you try it.
While holding the breath, one can meditate on the void at the eyebrow center.
Release the three Bandhas and inhale deeply. Do few deep inhalations and exhalations, till breathing comes back to normal. Then perform the next round.
Benefits of Kapalbhati Pranayama
Kapalbhati cleans the cranial sinuses and can relieve cerebral thrombosis.
It purifies the nerves and the pranic channels.
Excess of Kapha (one of the Doshas in Ayurveda) is removed from the body.
Kapalbhati gives a clear mind and helps to control thoughts.
The word Kapala means skull and Bhati mean to illumine. This practice adds luster to the face.
The Hatha Yoga Pradeepika claims that all impurities of the body can be removed by the practice of Kapalbhati.
Kapalbhati is the best practice available to oxygenate the blood.
It helps to remove abdominal fat and is an excellent practice for obesity.
Kapalbhati strengthens the abdominal muscles.
The practice of Kapalbhati helps to regulate the breathing mechanism. It prepares the body and mind to take up advanced practices of Pranayama.
Nauli or Nauli Kriya is a technique for abdominal massage in Hatha Yoga. Benefits of Nauli are tremendous. It is one of the six purification methods or Shatkarma in Hatha Yoga. Nauli practitioners can maintain good health and vitality. But mastering this technique is not easy for beginners. It may take anything from three months to one year to perfect it depending on your body condition, your zeal, and your effort.
Nauli is a powerful technique which massages all the organs in the abdomen – the stomach, the liver, spleen, urinary bladder, pancreas, gall bladder and the intestines. This helps to maintain the perfect health of the lower organs.
The key to perfecting Nauli is the ability to isolate the muscles called rectus abdominal muscle (or the “abs” muscle) in the abdomen. These muscles are found on either side of the abdomen, running vertically and parallel all the way from the lower ribs on the top to the pubic region at the bottom.
There are three basic practices in Nauli. When this muscle is isolated to the left it is called Vama Nauli and when it is isolated to the right it is called Dakshina Nauli. When both the left and right muscles are concentrated to the center, it is called Madhya Nauli. Apart from these, rotation of the muscles is also practiced.
Nauli must be learned in the presence of a qualified yoga instructor. The best time to do the practice is early morning when the stomach and the bowels are empty. After a heavy meal, one should wait for at least 5 to 6 hours before attempting this practice. Do not overdo the practice as it may cause indigestion and loose motion. In such cases, discontinue the practice for few days and take guidance from a yoga expert.
How to perform Madhya Nauli?
Stand with feet apart, knees bent and hands holding the thighs.
Take a deep breath and then force the breath out with a hissing sound.
Contact the belly inwards and upwards (towards the sternum). This is called Uddiyana Bandha. This is the base position for performing all the Nauli kriyas.
Hold the breath and try to isolate the two ‘abs’ muscles (or rectus abdominal muscles) and force them towards the center. There is no breathing involved. The breath is stopped with the air taken out of the lungs (also called Bahya Kumbhaka in Yoga). This takes a bit of effort in the beginning. The main difficulty is in isolating the rectus abdominal muscles. Then you have to concentrate and position it in the center for at least few seconds. This comes with practice.
Now breathe in and release the position. Come to a fully standing position. Take a few deep natural breaths before trying again.
Try this few times according to your capacity.
Perfecting this may take from three months to a year for a beginner. Have patience. Once you master it, the benefits are great.
How to perform Vama Nauli?
Take the same stance as in the earlier practice. Follow the steps 1 – 3 as mentioned in the Madhya Nauli practice.
Once you forcefully breathe out and perform Bahya Kumbhaka, get ready to do Vama Nauli.
In Vama Nauli only the left rectus abdominal muscles are isolated and pushed to the front. This will form a cavity on the right side and a muscle protrusion on the left side. Maintain this position for few seconds.
Breathe in and release the position and come to a standing position.
Take few deep breaths and repeat the process.
How to perform Dakshina Nauli?
The procedure is same as the earlier practice of Vama Nauli.
The difference is instead of isolating the left abdominal muscles, the right abdominal muscles are flexed and isolated.
After mastering the three types of Nauli, one can also try rotating the abdominal muscles in the clockwise direction. Also, try the same in the anti-clockwise direction. This looks like a churning motion of the ‘abs’ muscles from the left to right and from the right to left. This is a very powerful technique to tone the organs of the abdomen. The stomach, the intestines, spleen, liver, kidneys, pancreas, etc. get a good massage. If practiced regularly, this ensures good health of all these organs.
Benefits of Nauli Kriya
The practice of Nauli massages all the internal organs in the abdomen and keeps them healthy.
Nauli relieves constipation.
Nauli strengthens the functioning of the sexual organs
Trataka is a Hatha Yoga method to develop concentration. Trataka is a simple, yet powerful practice and is one of the six purification methods or Shatkarmas, taught in Hatha Yoga. The technique has to do with gazing or fixing the eyes on one point, either on an object or on a candle flame.
The practice of Trataka is based on the scientific fact, that the movement of the eyeballs can reflect our thinking process. When we concentrate, our thoughts are focused on a particular subject due to which, the stray thoughts become less or may even vanish. At the same time, the eyeballs become steadier. There is a connection between our eyeball movement and our mental state. This can be easily demonstrated on an EEG machine.
The same principle is used in the practice of Trataka. If we forcefully fix our gaze on a particular point, we can induce a steady concentrated mind. Our thoughts will become less and the turbulent mind can be brought under control.
There are many types of Trataka. Practitioners use many different objects for doing steady gazing. Flame of a candle, a black dot on the wall, the crystal ball, the Shiva Linga, the early morning sun, the full moon, picture of a deity, etc. can be used depending on one’s choice. The most commonly followed technique is gazing on a candle flame.
How to practice Trataka (Fixed Gazing) on a candle flame?
Sit straight in a relaxed way either on the floor or on a chair.
Keep a burning candle at a distance of one or two feet from the eyes.
Use a stand of appropriate height, to make sure the candle is at the same level as the eyes, so that you can gaze straight at the flame without tilting the head upwards or downwards.
Make the body steady and gaze at the bright spot of the flame just above the wick. Avoid looking at the top of the flame as the flame may flicker and you will lose concentration. Look either at the bright red spot just above the wick or the red dot of at the top of the wick itself. That is more likely to be steady than the rest of the flame.
Gaze at the flame without blinking the eyes. With practice, one can go from few seconds to few minutes without blinking. As you practice, you will see that you will be aware of only the flame. Rest of the field, including the body will go into oblivion. You will lose body consciousness and will feel that you are one with the flame.
When the eyes get tired, slowly close the eyes and relax. Sometimes, the eyes may water. Keep it closed till the strain is relieved. When the eyes are closed, try to see the image of the flame in the space in front of the forehead. Witness this internal flame as long as it appears.
Slowly open the eyes. You may blink a few times to relieve any strain.
Repeat this process few times according to your interest.
Benefits of Trataka (Fixed Gazing)
Trataka is good for the eyes. It strengthens the muscles surrounding the eyes and helps to get rid of mild eye problems like short sightedness.
Trataka removes insomnia. Practicing this few minutes before sleep can improve the quality of sleep.
Trataka removes distractions in the mind. It can make the mind calm and steady, thereby increasing the power of concentration.
Jala Neti is a yogic technique to clean the sinuses. Neti is one of the six purification methods in Hatha Yoga. The sinus cavities can get clogged with impurities which may cause infections, inflammations, and headaches. The yogic text Hatha Yoga Pradeepika gives a simple method to keep your sinuses clean. The text gives six practices for cleansing the body and to prepare the body and mind for higher practices of Yoga. These are called Shatkarmas. One of them deals with Nasal hygiene and is called Neti. Nasal hygiene is extremely important as it is linked to many conditions like sinusitis, migraine, headaches, allergies, and asthma. Neti is a very simple practice that can be done along with your daily routine, say immediately after brushing your teeth in the morning. It takes just a few minutes and helps to relieve many of the problems related to the nasal and sinus cavities.
To do Jala Neti (Neti using plain warm saline water), you need a Neti Pot, some salt, and water. Neti pot is a small pot with a long spout on the side which is inserted into one of the nostrils during the practice. It can be made of copper, steel, ceramic or even plastic. It is available in most health stores that sell yoga products. Prepare salt water by mixing 1 table spoon of salt to one liter of warm water. The salt should be of the right proportion and the water should be slightly warm so that it does not irritate the tissues inside the nostrils. Neti practiced with water is called Jala Neti. Neti can also be done using milk and is then called Dugdha Neti.
How to Practice Jala Neti (Nasal Cleaning with Water)?
Pour the salt water into the Neti pot and place the spout of the pot into one of the nostrils, say the left nostril. The cone at the end of the spout should be placed inside the nostril.
Tilt your head gently and open your mouth (Breathing should be done through the mouth during the process). Adjust the tilt of your head up to a point where the water starts flowing from your left nostril to the right nostril. Continue till the water in the pot is finished.
Fill the pot again with salt water and try the same procedure from the other nostril (say the right nostril).
You can repeat this process any number of times, depending on your need and time.
When you first start this practice, you may get irritations in the nose, sneezing, coughing, etc. which will disappear after few sessions.
Benefits of Jala Neti (Nasal Cleaning with Water)
Neti helps to maintain the nasal hygiene by removing the dirt and bacteria trapped along with the mucus in the nostrils.
Neti de-sensitizes the sensitive tissues inside the nose, which can alleviate rhinitis, allergies and some asthmas.
Several health problems like sinusitis, migraine, headaches, ear problems like tinnitus and middle ear infections can be reduced by doing Neti.
It can alleviate upper respiratory complaints, sore throats, tonsils and dry coughs.
It can clear the eye ducts and improve vision.
Effect of Neti on the mind is also notable. It can remove tensions and depressions, and give clarity of mind.
Associated Practices of Neti
Neti or Nasal Cleaning can also be done with milk. It is then a called Dhugdha Neti. There is another practice called Sutra Neti. In Sutra Neti, a waxed cotton string is inserted into the nose and pulled out from the mouth. Cleaning is done by to and fro motion of the string. Instead of using cotton thread, a rubber catheter may also be used, as it is convenient and easily available in any medical store. Benefits of Sutra Neti are similar to that of Jala Neti.
Basti is the Hatha Yoga method of performing an enema. Basti is one of the Shatkarma or the six purification techniques mentioned in the yogic texts – Hatha Yoga Pradeepika and the Gheranda Samhita. It is aimed at cleaning the lower intestines and the colon, removing toxins and cooling the body. This method is also used with its variations in traditional medicine practice of Ayurveda and Naturopathy. This process has to be learned from a qualified yoga instructor.
How to do Basti?
Sit in a tub filled with water. The water should reach up to the navel. Ideally, this is done in a river with a gentle flow of water.
Bend forward and put the hands on the knees.
Next one has to draw in water from the anus into the large intestine. To do this one needs some practice. Try to expand the sphincter muscles of the anus and try to pull water up into the rectum. This may be difficult in the beginning. UddhiyanaBandha or drawing the stomach inside and upwards helps in this process. Those who have mastered Nauli can also perform Nauli along with Uddiyana Bandhato draw the water upwards.
Hold the water in the bowels for some time and then expel it through the anus.
Repeat this process, till the bowels are fully clean.
Since this process may be difficult in the beginning, some practitioners insert a rubber or plastic tube into the anus to make it easier.
Benefits of Basti
The large intestine can have impurities stuck to its walls, which don’t get expelled for days. Basti removes these impurities and cleanses the colon, thus detoxifying the large intestine.
It relieves gas formation in the large intestine.
Basti is also a good practice followed by advanced practitioners of pranayama. During intense pranayama, a lot of heat is generated in the body. To remove this heat, practitioners can sit (up to navel) in a flowing river and practice Basti. Drawing the cold water in through the anus and then expelling it, removes the heat from the body.
Basti is a common practice used in Ayurveda and naturopathy for detoxification of the body.
Basti helps those who go on long fasts. During long water fasts, the regular stool movements are almost absent. Yet, a lot of toxins get expelled from the body and is pushed into the small and large intestine. These toxins have to be taken out of the body. Usually, an enema is given to remove these impurities stuck to the intestinal walls. Those who know Basti can practice it to get the ‘enema effect’.
Today, most people do enema using a simple enema kit, which is available in most medical stores. This is an easy alternative to the practice of Basti in the Hatha Yoga style. An enema has the same effect and much easier to do for most people. In Naturopathy and Ayurveda, warm water (about 1 liters) boiled with Neem leaves is used for doing an enema. Neem leaf is a good disinfectant. The water container is connected with a long tube that is inserted into the rectum. The water (about a liter or more) is allowed to enter the rectum. It is held there for few minutes according to the capacity of the practitioner. Then one goes to the toilet and expels out the entire water along with human waste.
There are also other traditional yogic methods to clean the intestine. The practice of Shanka Prakshalana is common. It involves drinking about five liters of slightly warm saline water. This is quite an intense process and can be very tiring. The salt water doesn’t get absorbed by the intestines. Instead, it drips down all the way to the rectum, cleaning the entire digestive tract from top to down. It cleans the entire stomach, small intestine, large intestine and rectum of any human waste or food particles stuck to the lining of the intestine. This should be attempted only once in six months. But there is a simpler technique called Laghu Shanka Prakshalana which can be done every two weeks. Here, one drinks only two liters of warm saline water. Then the entire water is expelled from the anus in few sittings.
Thus, the traditional method of Basti has given way to simpler methods of enema in modern times.
Vaman Dhauti or Kunjal Kriya is meant for purification of the upper digestive tract. Dhauti is one of the six purification methods or Shatkarma of Hatha Yoga. There are various types of Dhauti – for cleaning the mouth, teeth, ears, stomach, and intestines. In this article, we will discuss the most common among the Dhauti practices called Vamana Dhauti or Kunjal Kriya. Vaman Dhauti is meant for cleaning the stomach and the upper digestive tract.
Why Clean the Stomach?
When we eat food, the food remains in the stomach for a considerable length of time. After a heavy meal, it takes about 3 – 5 hours to empty the stomach and push the food into the small intestine, depending on the type of food consumed. In the stomach, the food is mixed with the enzymes and digestive juices, which prepares it for absorption in the intestine.
Even though the food is emptied into the intestine, small particles of undigested food remain on the lining of the stomach. Of course, this may get flushed down when we drink water or when we take the next meal. But during that time, it can cause irritation and produce gas and acidity.
It is observed in nature that many animals, like lions, spontaneously vomit food that remains undigested in the stomach, within few hours after a full meal. This is nature’s mechanism to prevent the formation of toxins in the body due to the accumulation of undigested food.
In the science of Ayurveda, it is said that the undigested particles of food get stuck to the stomach lining as a sticky yellowish-white substance called ‘Aama’. It further moves down to the small intestine and can get absorbed into the body, creating toxins and causing diseases.
The yogic practice of Vaman Dhauti helps to clean the stomach of the unwanted food particles left over after digestion. It is practiced on an empty stomach in the early morning. It is a process where the practitioner drinks a large amount of saline water and vomits out the entire water, thus flushing the stomach clean.
How to do Vaman Dhauti / Kunjal Kriya?
Prepare warm saline water for the practice. One can use 1 to 1 ½ liters of water depending on one’s capacity. Add 2 tea spoons (about 10 ml) of salt per liter of water. Water should be just lukewarm and not hot.
Drink one glass of the salt water first to see your comfort level. Then go ahead with the second glass. In this manner, drink the entire saline water (1 to 1 ½ liters) very quickly.
Next step is to vomit out the entire water.
Bend over a wash basin or sink to vomit out the water. To aid in the vomiting, insert two fingers (index and middle) into your throat. Tickle the root of the tongue with your fingers. This will cause a vomiting reflux and the water is thrown out. This will happen in spurts.
Continue the process till all the water that you drank is vomited out.
Benefits of Vaman Dhauti / Kunjal Kriya
This practice cleans the digestive tract of any undigested food particles lingering in the stomach and esophagus. This undigested food can eventually enter the body as toxins. Kunjal Kriya prevents the formation of these toxins.
Cleaning the stomach also removes gas, acidity, and indigestion.
It removes extra mucus from the food pipe or esophagus.
It helps to relieve asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems.
It can alleviate a sore throat and coughs.
This practice is also used in Ayurveda and Naturopathy. It removes the problems created by ‘Pitha Dosha’ like acidity and gas.
The Kunjal kriya is fairly easy to practice and can be done even by beginners. Those with specific medical conditions like asthma, stomach ulcers, etc should seek the help from qualified yoga instructors before attempting it.