Kapal bhati is a kriya, or yogic practice, which invigorates the brain and awakens the dormant centres which are responsible for subtle perceptions. Kapal means forehead. Bhati means light, but also 'perception' or 'knowledge.'
The practice of kapal bhati helps to clear the sinuses, and heals mucus disorders and respiratory diseases such as asthma, allergies, etc. It purifies the frontal brain and rejuvenates tired cells and nerves. It also brings energy to the gut, improving the vitality of the abdominal organs, increasing metabolism, improving digestion and promoting regularity, thus helping with weight loss.
When practiced regularly, it relieves constipation, acidity, and anorexia. It also helps to stimulate the pancreas to release insulin that helps in controlling diabetes and improves liver and spleen functions. Most importantly, it polishes the third eye (intuition) and helps to spiritually awaken the ajna chakra. This, in turn, nurtures mental wellbeing.
To perform kapal bhati, sit in a comfortable meditative pose, spine upright, eyes closed, palms on knees, relaxed. Perform exhalation rapidly 'like the bellows of a blacksmith.' Exhale and inhale through the nose only. The inhale should be silent, while the exhale may be loud as you force the air out of your lungs by contracting your lower belly. Try to keep the upper abdomen relaxed.
For advanced practitioners, with each exhale, engage jalandhara bandha, moola bandha and uddiyana bandha, in this order. With each inhale, release moola bandha, uddiyana bandha and jalandhara bandha in this order.
If you feel dizzy during this practice, stop and relax. When you feel better, continue with less force and more awareness.
Kapal bhati should be avoided during pregnancy and menstruation, and during asthma attacks. Stop immediately in case you are feeling any discomfort. Individuals suffering from high blood pressure and severe cardiac disorders should also avoid this.
The body has three doshas (faults) — kapha (mucus), pitta (acid) and vata (wind). An imbalance in any of these causes diseases. The mind also has three faults: mala (impurity), vikshepa (distraction), and avarna (ignorance).
Impurity is the psychological stuff which manifests when you sit for meditation. There are five types: karna (sensual desire), krodha (anger), maha (infatuation), mada (arrogance or pride), and matsarya (envy). When visions dance across your mind and you cannot concentrate because thoughts keep oscillating between the past and future, that is vikshepa. When the mind is unable to understand itself that is ignorance or avarna.
Through the practice of kriya-s and breathing techniques, centres in the physical body which are responsible for arousing these dosha-s, are stabilised. The kriya-s work on the physical body to influence the mind, brain waves and blockages of energy.
Although these cleansing exercises are very powerful and effective, they have to be practiced regularly to maintain balance. Otherwise, impurities accumulate very quickly and the body and mind soon fall back into old patterns.