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 kapalabhati. Individuals with uncontrolled asthma, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, COPD, headache, heart disease, uncontrolled hypertension, insomnia, pregnancy or recent abdominal surgery.
- 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.