A student recently asked me about the breathing exercise that makes you sweat. I had to clarify, “you mean Breath of Fire, right?” She said she had been told by a yoga teacher that there was a breathing technique that makes you sweat. You don’t need to do any work, just do this breath exercise, and you will sweat. Well…I’m not sure I can promise that, but here is a description of Kapalabhati Breath, otherwise known as Breath of Fire.
Kapalabhati (kah-pah-lah-BAH-tee) is a cleansing technique for the entire respiratory system. In Sanskrit, Kapala means skull, and bhati means shine. Kapalabhati is a technique which makes the skull feel like it is shining or glowing. Although many consider it to be a pranayama, it is technically one of the Kriya, or cleansing processes in Hatha Yoga which clears the head and cleanses the entire respiratory track.
How to Perform Breath of Fire:
Sit in any comfortable position with your back straight, eyes closed, and hands on your knees. The breath starts from the belly and uses the muscles of the abdomen to push breath out. It’s performed with a forced exhale, followed by a passive inhale. Take a deep breath in, bring a hand to your belly, and then begin to push breath out forcefully. The inhale will take care of itself, just work on pushing breath out. Traditionally, Breath of Fire is practiced in rounds of 20 to 30 exhalations in each cycle. After you do two or three cycles, you should be feeling warm, and more clear headed.
To practice kapalabhati breath with me, watch this video.
In many yoga traditions, Breath of Fire is practiced at the beginning of a practice to warm the body and prepare the mind for the work to come. In Bikram yoga, it is practiced at the end of class, with an open mouth, to begin cooling the body down.
There are some contraindications to practicing Kapalabhati Breathing.
It is not recommended for:
• Pregnant Women
• High Blood Pressure
• Heart Disease
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