Kapalabhati Breathing

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Kapalabhati breathing, or skull-shining breath and breath of fire, is a breathing technique meant to bring the body back to proper homeostasis with yogic breathing. 

It’s characterized by forcing the air out with abdominal muscles, then immediately relaxing the diaphragm and abdomen to force air back in. This cycle is repeated a few times daily to cleanse the body and reclaim well-being, especially for those who suffer from hypertension, obesity, and diabetes.

Kapalabhati Breathing Explained

Kapalabhati breathing,  or the “breath of fire,” is a rapid breathing technique from the longstanding discipline of pranayama yoga.

This breathing technique is characterized by exhalation forced through pursed lips with the help of abdominal muscles and repeated by relaxing those muscles to force inhalation, helping people spiritually and physically.

Kapalbhati, an alternative spelling to Kapalabhati, differs from pursed lip breathing. It is often described as energizing instead of calming, cleansing and heating instead of cooling. This breathing exercise has very little risk, bar those with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions and injuries.  

Spiritually, Kapalabhati pranayama can help purify various energies. Medical research shows similar results, proving it is effective in various conditions, especially modernization-related ones.  

Benefits of Kapalabhati Breathing

Kapalabhati comes from kapala, meaning “skull and the organs inside it,” and bhati meaning “illuminating.”

Some claim it comes from the refreshing feeling that remains when complete; some claim it’s the purification capabilities; some even claim that regular practice makes the forehead shiny.

Which is why it’s also called the “skull-shining breath.” Kapalabhati pranayama is prized for its health benefits. Some consider it the best technique for re-oxygenating blood, which is why some insist it helps renew body tissue and fight old age.

Physical Benefits

Physical benefits of Kapalabhati Breathing

Kapalabhati pranayama is considered a cure for various ailments, but its main use is to maintain the homeostasis and well-being of people.

As a result, it’s very effective in conditions that involve the disruption of autonomic nervous systems, such as diabetes, hypertension (i.e. high blood pressure), and obesity.

The rapid breathing and the contractions of the abdomen have a pronounced effect on the abdomen and its glands. The resulting blood circulation improvement and gland secretion correction help with disease management.

Metaphysical and Spiritual Benefits

Spiritually, Kapalabhati breath can help purify the subtle energy streams or nadis. It assists in purifying the body of kapha (phlegm), which ultimately builds to an awakening of energies along the sushumna or the spinal nadi.

It also balances the vata (wind), pitta (bile), and kapha.

The breath of fire is often done as part of Kundalini yoga, which includes chanting, breathing techniques, singing, and repetitive poses.

The Science Behind Kapalabhati Breathing

The skull-shining breath uses forceful exhalations that employ the abdominal muscles and diaphragm. Contracting these muscles puts pressure on the abdominal organs, pushing the diaphragm up, resulting in forced exhalation.

Abdominal breathing is slow, but the powerful contractions produce veritable waves of breath and are also known to help stabilize emotions and control responses to stressful environments.

Kapalabhati breath may be seen as a parasympathetic activity which relieves stress and anxiety, resulting in better oxygenation of vital organs despite a low heart rate.

During Kapalabhati practice, oxygen consumption can be between 1.1-1.8 times higher than regular activity. The heart rate jumps in the first 20-40 seconds of yogic breathing but levels off to the higher side.  


Although Kapalbhati pranayama is a rapid breathing exercise, it doesn’t produce hyperventilation. The lack of dizziness can prove this during properly done practice, which is a sign of hyperventilation.

The average CO2 concentrations post-yoga practice are similar to the resting state. The heart rates of practitioners of Kapalabhati are also different from those of people hyperventilating. Those predisposed to dizziness, however, are an exception.  

How to Perform Kapalabhati Breathing

how to perform kapalabhati breathing

Before You Begin

Kapalabhati is an advanced pranayama technique that necessitates prior knowledge of abdominal breathing. Familiarity with foundational pranayamas like Ujjayi Breathing is recommended before attempting kapalabhati.

These instructions aim to offer a safe and general introduction to the practice. However, it is always advisable to learn new techniques in person from a qualified instructor.

  • Assume a seated position. Maintaining a strong posture during the exercise is very important, especially when it gets more intense.
  • Make sure the head, neck, and torso are upright and steady.
  • Inhale naturally and passively. It’s important to do it without much thought.
  • Exhale forcefully through pursed lips while actively contracting the abdomen.
  • Once the contraction of the abdominal wall is finished, immediately relax both the lungs and the abdomen. That should naturally help the lungs draw in the fresh air. Repeat.

In the beginning, try going twice daily; three sets each time, about ten reps each. It’s best to pace oneself for a few rounds while giving time to recover.

Once the current program becomes comfortable, try increasing the number of repetitions in each set.


People should not practice rapid breathing practices like Kapalabhati with eye conditions (i.e.glaucoma), ear conditions (i.e. fluid in ears), or a bleeding nose.

Those with low or high blood pressure or coronary heart disease should also avoid this yoga practice. Those who had recent abdominal surgery should also avoid the exercise.

Practice kapalabhati on an empty stomach, usually around two or more hours after eating. Keep the bladder and bowels empty while performing this technique. Immediately discontinue yoga practice if one experiences syncope, dizziness, or can’t maintain a steady rhythm.

Those predisposed to those symptoms should consult a medical professional before attempting. Most of all, keep an eye on one’s capacity. This practice will help build stamina, but the moment fatigue is detectable, end practice.

Bear in mind this is a breathing exercise, so the first muscles to get tired are generally the respiratory muscles.  

Frequently asked questions about Kapalabhati breathing

How is this different from pursed-lip breathing?

Pursed lip breathing is closer to regular breathing than to Kapalbhati, with its main difference being the timing. Its purpose is also different; Kapalabhati’s is to recondition the body, while pursed lip breathing is a tool to re-oxygenate blood quickly.

Can you incorporate this into a yoga routine?

Of course! This technique is often used as a part of asana practice. Invigorating the body is a good way to start or end a yoga session.

Which breathing exercise is similar to Kapalabhati breathing?

Bhastrika Pranayama is similar in action but not so in effect. It mainly benefits the nervous system, refreshing the mind and helping with depression and anxiety.

Alternate nostril breathing could have similar effects if performed with abdominal muscles, but it’s a calming practice often used to finish yoga practices.

What abdominal muscles engage in Kapalbhati practice?

The primary muscles that engage in Kapalbhati practice are the rectus abdominis, the internal and external oblique muscles, and the transverse abdominis.


Kapalabhati pranayama: An answer to modern-day polycystic ovarian syndrome and coexisting metabolic syndrome? - National Library of Medicine

Learn Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath) - Yoga International

The Benefits of Breath of Fire and How to Do It - Healthline

Pranayama Skull-Shining Breath - Yoga Journal

Release Toxins With Kapalabhati Breath - Chopra


*The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.

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