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Kapalbhati and Springtime in Albuquerque

It’s that time of year again—springtime. In lovely Albuquerque that means the time of year when a cool, fresh 60 degree day is immediately followed by several lovely, sunny days of 80 degrees. And on the heels of that, the temperature drops back down to 70 degrees. That doesn’t sound so bad, until the onslaught of 25 to 50 plus mile per hour winds accosts the city with the accompanying dust, sand, tumbleweeds, and litter. This is a scenario with which Burquenos are all too familiar. These drastic changes in weather, and dry, dusty winds, combined with rising levels of pollen can wreak havoc with our sinuses and lungs. One way to combat this is to practice kapalbhati pranayama. This translates as “skull shining” or “forehead shining” breath.

A brief internet search on kapalbhati will result in a myriad of claims as to its benefits from clearing the sinuses to curing disease and improving well-being. While I cannot validate all of these claims, I do know from my own personal experience that it is very useful in clearing sinuses. Just based on the increase of oxygen in the system, and the physical mechanics and biological warming effects of the practice, the following claimed benefits make sense from a physiological perspective:

  • Clear the sinuses

  • Increase lung capacity

  • Improve circulation

  • Oxygenate the body

  • Strengthening the muscles of the stomach and abdomen

  • Flatten and tone the belly

  • Treat common cold, pneumonia and asthma

  • Improve respiratory disorders

  • Facilitate increased and more efficient oxygen and carbon-dioxide exchange

  • Enhance the functioning of brain cells

  • Improve memory and concentration

  • Purify the blood

  • Improve skin health

  • Remove toxins from the body

  • Modify the endocrine glands

  • Improve overall fitness and health

The following is a list of more far-reaching health benefits claimed to be experienced by practicing kapalbhati. These benefits may be secondary, and can perhaps be thought of as causal, a ripple effect as in a body of water:

  • Rejuvenate tired cells

  • Improve digestion

  • Relax facial muscles and nerves

  • Melt love handles

  • Slow the ageing process

  • Reduce wrinkles and other signs of ageing

  • Awaken the ajna chakra (or third eye)

  • Cure obesity

  • Cure diabetes

  • Relieve constipation

  • Cure hair loss

  • Unlock mental or emotional blockages

  • Release anger and stress

  • Relieve pain

  • Improve posture and enhance flexibility

  • Improve internal and external well-being

If I experience any of these ancillary benefits I consider it a bonus; my main purpose in practicing this pranayama is to improve my sinus health and survive (dare I say thrive in?) the diverse Albuquerque spring weather, and it works. Note: People with high blood pressure, a hernia or heart disease should not practice kapalbhati. The following describes the process for practicing this pranayama technique:

· Sit on the floor or yoga mat in easy pose, legs crossed comfortably and spine erect; rest hands, palms face down, on the knees

  • Inhale slowly and smoothly through the nose

  • Exhale slowly and smoothly through the nose

  • At the bottom of the exhale begin to immediately exhale, repeatedly and rapidly, through the nose by pumping the lower abdomen

  • The inhales will be automatic and involuntary

· The stomach muscles should be doing the work of pushing and pulling air out and in

· Do about 50 breaths this way, by rapidly pumping the abdomen

o Over time this number can be increased as the practitioner becomes more familiar with the process

· At the end of 50 breaths, inhale deeply and hold the breath at the top of the inhale as long is comfortable

· Release the breath and take a few normal breaths

· Repeat the entire process two more times

o Take 50 kapalbhati breaths

o Inhale and hold the breath for a few seconds

o Release the breath, and take a few normal breaths

o This represents a total of three “rounds” of kapalbhati

· Practice three rounds of kapalbhati once a day in the morning for best results

· If breathlessness or hyperventilation occurs during a round of kapalbhati, stop the practice, take a few normal breaths, and begin again

After practicing kapalbhati once a day for a month, take note of the benefits experienced. Continue once a day for another month, and another, and see how this practice can help with energy levels, lung capacity, and overall health benefits.

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