Let me warn you: This is not for the faint-hearted. This is not for the ones who easily feel embarrassed in public. And not for those who are afraid of making weird noises either. If you decide to go ahead, you’ll find yourself huffing and puffing while a teacher is watching you closely to check if you’re doing it right.
The noise you’ll be producing vaguely resembles a sneeze, but one that you failed to suppress. It’s a forceful exhalation through your nose, a bit like blowing it, but without any tissues involved. Importantly, you have to close your eyes. Not only to aid concentration, but also to skip the pitiful and bewildered looks bystanders will bestow on you.
So what’s the benefit of all this?
What I’ve just described goes by the name of Kapalbhati, and like all other things that require a sacrifice (and be it only your dignity), the benefits are enormous. No, I’m not just talking (or, writing). I’ve tried and tested it.
In my teens, I was a hopeless case. Doctors threw their hands up in the air, giving up on curing my asthma. Their solution was an inhaler. No, lots of inhalers, over the years. No one could tell me why I had asthma and what to do about it – apart from telling me to inhale a mist of unpronounceable substances. At night I only slept between forceful coughing attacks. My parents made sure I had left my door open before going to bed so that they could monitor what was going on.
The first time I saw a yoga teacher demonstrating Kapalbhati I had to force myself not to laugh. It does look ridiculous. The health promises were outlandish:
- Clears respiratory tract
- Reduces the risk of infections and allergies
- Improves flexibility of the diaphragm
- Removes the spasm in bronchial tubes
- Improves respiratory efficiency
The teacher also claimed that by forcefully exhaling through the nose, allergens in the lungs and the respiratory tracts are removed from the system. Of course I thought this was hogwash. But after years of inhalers, I was desperate enough to try.
To cut a one-year long story short: My asthma has almost disappeared. I still carry an inhaler, but more for my peace of mind. I hardly ever use it. And all thanks to a few hundred forceful exhalations a day. Of course I can’t be sure this works for everyone, but should not someone tell these doctors anyway?
So if you’re curious, ensure your yoga teacher monitors your technique – but here’s a general overview of how to do it:
- Inhale, then exhale forcefully and quickly through the nose (don’t worry about being noisy!).
- The following inhale should come naturally, with the air simply flowing into the lungs.
- Repeat quickly for however many times is comfortable (in Sivananda yoga, practitioners repeat 120x).
- Take two full breaths, expanding the abdomen and the chest.
- Inhale comfortably, hold for 45 sec – 1 minute if possible.
- Take two full breaths.
- Repeat from start (up to 3 rounds).
NOTE If you suffer from cardiac problems, diabetes or high blood pressure check with your yoga teacher and/or doctor.
Sneak a peek here (helpfully, Swami Ramdev also demonstrates how not to do it):
So as I said, you’ll embarrass yourself a bit. But sucking a deep breath out of an orange plastic inhaler isn’t particularly sexy either.
Let’s all take a deep breath,
P.S. For those who are familiar with the practice, here’s a more scientific approach by Swami Sivananda.