Kapalabhati and Bhastrika pranayama are two types of yogic breath (prana) practices. They are similar in execution, focus, and benefit, with a small variance in the inhales. Kapalabhati also presents a distinctive effect on the brain.
Kapalabhati means “shining skull.” The Hatha Yoga Pradipika translates it as “frontal brain cleansing.” The practice is said to “invigorate the entire brain and awaken the dormant centers which are responsible for subtle perception.” Thus, kapalabhati should be done before meditation practices in order to foster a higher awareness with an “awakened” brain.
Bhastra is the Sanskrit word for “bellows.” Thus, bhastrika is translated as “bellows breath.” It is also sometimes called “breath of fire,” because it fans the internal fire. Bhastrika is done much the same as kapalabhati, except that the inhale/exhale is equally forced, whereas the inhale in kapalabhati occurs as a natural consequence of the forced exhale.
Benefits of both include kindling of digestion and Manipura chakra, stimulating heart and blood circulation, increasing metabolic rate, strengthening the nervous system, increasing lung capacity and endurance, toning the diaphragm, heightening awareness, and arousing mental focus and energy.
The forced exhale of breath during kapalabhati produces a slight decompression of the cerebrospinal fluid. As the air moves back into the body naturally (inhalation), the fluid compresses. Done in rapid succession, this breathing massages the brain.
Here are some resources to check out for more information and practice instruction.
- Bhastrika practice with Sandra Anderson (video)
- Kapalabhati practice with Sandra Anderson (video)
- Kapalabhati wiki
- Bhastrika Instructions
- Kapalabhati Instructions