Stir Up the Prana: Kapalabhati for Kapha Balancing in Spring

Kripalu School of Ayurveda

It’s springtime and, from the Ayurvedic perspective, that means kapha season. Kapha dosha, consisting of water and earth elements, rules the cool, damp, rainy season of spring. As we move into the early spring, it’s common to feel an excess of kapha’s primary qualities—heavy, slow, dull, sticky, thick, and cloudy. Aligning your yoga sadhana to harmonize seasonal qualities requires minimal adjustments, but the overall effect can be significant.

Offset the indications of excess springtime kapha—lethargy, sluggishness, lack of motivation, water retention, or congestion—by gradually boosting heat and thoroughly circulating prana in your practice. Energizing breathing practices, such as Kapalabhati, the Skull-Shining Breath, are excellent for stimulating circulation—leaving you feeling warm, light, clear, and alert. 

Although Kapalabhati is one of the more lively pranayamas (technically, it’s a kriya, or cleansing technique), it’s important to always practice ahimsa in yoga; therefore, never force or get aggressive with the breath, but rather apply mindful effort to get things moving. The belly-pumping action of Kapalabhati is great for stimulating agni, which can get sluggish during the damp, heavy days of early spring. It’s also effective for clearing the sinuses—make sure you have a tissue handy. Ayurveda considers 6:00–10:00 am to be the kapha time of day, when these qualities are strongest, so early morning (on an empty stomach) is generally thought to be the best time to practice Kapalabhati. Remember to avoid Kapalabhati if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, heart conditions, respiratory infection, or abdominal discomfort; have had recent surgery; are pregnant or nursing; or other precautions mentioned in your studies.

Here are some tips for exploring Kapalabhati.

  1. Begin by creating a welcoming space for your practice. In good weather, consider an outdoor location. Mental stimulation and variety are wonderful for harmonizing kapha dosha, so practicing in a new environment can be incredibly invigorating. Just be sure to stay warm, as kapha dosha is cool, and it’s important to remain comfortable during practice.
  2. Prepare a steady, comfortable seat. Again, for variety, you might try a new seated position for pranayama. If you tend to always sit in Sukhasana, perhaps try supported Virasana on a block, or sit upright on the edge of a chair with the knees directly over the ankles.
  3. Set your intention for practice. Prana is the ultimate healing force—when practicing pranayama, welcome the prana and invite it into the areas that need it the most. Allow your practice to be a dance—a co-creation—with the life-force energy.  
  4. Begin with a body scan. Notice how you’re feeling. Assess which qualities are present in your bodymind (e.g. cloudy, heavy, dense, slow, dull) and choose the appropriate pace, intensity, and duration of Kapalabhati to balance those qualities. Choose a slower, gentler, shorter round if you’re feeling mild kapha qualities, or a faster, peppier, longer round if you’re feeling moderate or intense kapha qualities.
  5. Tips for practice: Both the inhalation and the exhalation come through the nose. Contract the belly during each quick, crisp, active exhalation (imagine blowing out a candle). Relax the belly during each passive, relaxed inhalation. Take one inhalation for each exhalation. Sit comfortably and elongate the spine. Inhale fully and begin 25 to 50 gentle but sharp, steady rounds of Kapalabhati. Repeat two to three times.
  6. Take several minutes of silent meditation to bask in the raised prana and digest the increased agni.

Just a few minutes of warming, stimulating breathing each day can greatly support doshic harmony. If you haven’t practiced Kapalabhati in a while, now might be the time to reconnect with this technique and breathe new life into your practice.

Try a kapha-balancing Kripalu Yoga class with Larissa.

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Larissa Hall Carlson, E-RYT 500, MA, 20-year Kripalu faculy and former Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, guides retreats, directs trainings, and provides Ayurvedic consultations across the country.

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