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Breath of Fire

Breath of Fire (kapalabhati) is an energizing yoga breathing exercise & kriya (purifying action) which cleanses not only the nasal passages but the entire respiratory system by dispelling excess carbon dioxide to allow the body receive more oxygen. Kapalabhati wakes up dormant prana (lifeforce) if you are feeling depressed.

Breath of Fire (kapalabhati) is an energizing yoga breathing exercise & kriya (purifying action) which cleanses not only the nasal passages but the entire respiratory system by dispelling excess carbon dioxide to allow the body receive more oxygen. Kapalabhati wakes up dormant prana (life-force) if you are feeling depressed. 

MECHANISM OF ACTION Breath of fire (kapalbhati) energizes and activates the sympathetic nervous system. Kapalabhati is a controlled form of hyperventilation with forceful exhalations & passive inhalations that help dispel excess amounts of carbon dioxide. Kapalabhati involves short forceful contractions of the anterior abdominal wall and abduction of the muscles that pull the vocal chords apart to allow for the passage of air movements. The vigorous pumping of the belly helps stimulate the abdominal area (solar plexus) and release blocks of stagnant energy. When kapalabhati is immediately followed by breath retention (kumbuka), it helps to regulate the blood gases and bring blood pressure and pulse to an optimum level.

INDICATIONS & USAGE Practice kapalabhati when you need an energy boost, to help digestion and elimination or to clear nasal passages (after neti kriya). Helpful for individuals with depression, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Not intended for children.

DOSAGE & ADMINISTRATION Practice kapalabhati alone or while holding a yoga pose with erect spine (no twists, forward folds or inversions). Start with 10-20 repetitions and work up to 50 repetitions over time.

CONTRAINDICATIONS Physicians should counsel patients about the benefits & risks of kapalabhatiIndividuals with uncontrolled asthma, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, COPD, headache, heart disease, uncontrolled hypertension, insomnia, pregnancy or recent abdominal surgery.

PRECAUTIONS/WARNINGS 

  • Kapalabhati should only be practiced with an knowledgeable yoga instructor.
  • ANXIETY: Avoid practice when you are feeling anxious as this will fuel the fire; practice with caution and always follow with a calming pranayama
  • LOW BACK PAIN: caution advised due to forceful exhalations
  • BIPOLAR DISORDER: avoid if manic or hypomanic
  • CHRONIC HYPERTENSION: practice with caution as kapalabhati increases blood pressure transiently, contraindicated in individuals with uncontrolled hypertension
  • EPILEPSY: caution is advised as possible overexertion could lower the seizure threshold
  • PTSD: practice with caution as can lead to autonomic hyperarousal, provoked mental agitation or potentially precipitate a flashback

ADVERSE EVENTS Adverse events can occur for certain conditions (see above) or when an individual pushes the body to extremes. There was a case report of a healthy 29-yo woman who presented to an ER with spontaneous pneumothorax after practicing kapalabhati.

PRACTICE CHILLASANA VIDEO LINK: Stay tuned..coming soon to YouTube. Subscribe to our newsletter to get updates.

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RESOURCES 

BOOKS

The Principles and Practice of Yoga and Healthcare. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa
Yoga as Medicine. Timothy McCall MD
Yoga for Depression. Amy Weintraub
Yoga Skills for Therapists. Amy Weintraub

CLINICAL STUDIES

Dinesh T, Gaur GS. 2015. Comparative effect of 12 weeks of slow & fast pranayama training on pulmonary function in young, healthy volunteers: A RTC. Intl J Yoga. 8(1): 22-26
Sengupta P et al. Health Impacts of Yoga and Pranayama: A State-of-the-Art Review. Int J Prev Med. 2012 Jul; 3(7): 444–458.2012.
Telles S et al. Finger dexterity and visual discrimination following 2 yoga breathing practices. Int J Yoga. 2012.5:37-41
Telles S et al. Heart rate variability changes during high frequency yoga breathing & breath awareness. Biopsychosoc Med. 2011 Apr 13;5:4.
Joshi M, Telles S. A nonrandomized non-naive comparative study of the effects of kapalabhatid & breath awareness on event-related potentials in trained yoga practitioners. J of alt compl med. 2009 15(3): 281-5
Johnson DB et al. Kapalabhati Pranayama: breath of fire or pneumothorax? Chest. 2004 125(5): 1951-2
Raju PS et al. Comparison of effect of yoga & physical exercise in athletes. Indian J Med Res 1994; 100:81– 86
Stanck A Jr et al. Kapalabhati: yoga cleansing exercise; I. Cardiovascular & respiratory changes. Homeost Health Dis 1991; 33:126–134
Desai BP, Gharote ML. Effect of Kapalabhati on blood urea, creatinine, and tyrosine. Act Nerv Super (Praha) 1990; 32:95–98
Singh V et al. Effect of pranayama on airway reactivity in subjects with asthma. Lancet 1990; 335:1381–1383
Gore MM et al. Effect of ten minutes kapalabhati on some physiological functions. Yoga Mimamsa 1989; 28: 1–11.
Naruka JS et al. Effect of pranayama practices on fasting blood glucose & serum cholesterol. Indian J Med Sci 1986; 40:149–523
Kety SS et al. The effects of active & passive hyperventilation on cerebral blood flow, cerebral oxygen consumption, cardiac output & blood pressure of normal young man. Journal of clinical investigation. 1946. 25: 107-19

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