7 October 2016

Bhastrika & Kapalabhati

Bhastrika is sometimes known as the breath of fire, whereas kapalabhati is also known as shining skull breath, or breath of glow

I have also seen a fast, easily paced, kapalabhati, being called kapalabhati, with the slower, more forceful kapalabhati being called bhastrika.


                    Image result for kundalini breath of fire


How to do them

  • bhastrika is rapid breathing in & out of the nose
  • kapalabhati is also nostril breathing, but with a passive inhale, with the emphasis being on the more active exhale, like a sneeze. Usually 1 sneeze per inhale
  • Dr Swami Gitananda from Ananda Ashram, Pondicherry, advised one to two of either of these breaths per second, using a steady rhythm
  • each done up to 120 breaths
  • as a yoga teacher, I teach both of them in rounds of five breaths. Starting with maybe three rounds, then as the student can do more, I do ten breaths, then fifteen, then twenty. Often this is sufficient in a beginners or general class of about an hours duration. Obviously, for more advanced students, a higher number is fine. When I am teaching like this, the pranayama is at the end of a class, before meditation, and/or relaxation.

When to use them


  • we have looked at the use of bhastrika (september and august 2016 posts), in sadhana and in classes
  • when the warmer weather comes, I like to use kapalabhati, instead. It is more cooling
  • bhastrika is heating whereas kapalabhati is more cooling
  • however, if you like to use both, do bhastrika first

If you are teaching bhastrika on it's own in summer, follow each round with one deep cooling breath, such as sitali or sheetkari. This helps to reduce the heat which is so important for those who are adversely affected by heat. These people can also do this in winter, but for those who are sensitive to cold and wet, this use of a cooling breath should be avoided in winter.

There are other differences between these two breaths. Bhastrika can be used as an energy building pranayama, as a lung purifier, or both, as mentioned here.

In this case, you would do the bhastrika pumping the navel, then move into pumping the chest area, doing each an equal number of times. Frequently, I will be crosslegged, and will twist to the right to do twenty bhastrikas, then repeat to the left side. Now face forwards, pump the navel twenty times, then do chest bhastrika twenty times. Finish with a deep breath in and out then be aware of the effects of this before doing another pranayama.

This gives eighty bhastrikas. Sufficient on it's own, for most people, without kapalabhati. For advanced students, you could just add about thirty to sixty kapalabhatis, after.

In summer, I do the twist to right, then left, then facing forwards, twenty kapalabhatis each, making sixty all up. If you make them smooth and rhythmic, rather than loud and slow, you will get a better cooling effect. 

And in the same post mentioned above, there are directions for adding bhastrika to some poses. In summer, do kapalabhati instead. And then just do kapalabhati at the end for pranayama, rather than adding bhastrika. Consistency is key with teaching, and it's also important not to try to fit everything in, as this does not create a nice effect.


                          Image result for kundalini breath of glow

Actually, bhastrika is a pranayama, but kapalabhati is one of the six main purification techniques (shat karmas) of hatha yoga. 

What does kapalabhati purify? It's the frontal lobes, the area of discrimination, of good judgements and choices. And with the frontal lobes we have the forehead. There is a square portal in the forehead which is the gateway to the inner realm of Ajna chakra. Ajna is also known as the third eye, and the eye of the soul (whatumanawa). Ajna is a cosmic realm.

And, the inside of the forehead is where the manifestations of mind, energy, chakras, tattwas, koshas, everything! manifests. Kapalabhati is an exemplary aid for this. It's easy to see why it is also called shining skull breath, and breath of glow.





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