Perform exhalation and inhalation rapidly like the bellows (of a blacksmith). This is called kapalbhati and it destroys all mucus disorders.
(Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2:35)
The last of the six shatkarma is kapalbhati. In the "Gherand Samhita" it is known as bhalabhai. The words 'bhala' and 'kapal' mean the 'cranium' or 'forehead'. 'Bhati' means 'light' or 'splendour', but also 'perception and knowledge'. Kapalbhati is a pranayama technique which invigorates the entire brain and awakens the dormant centres which are responsible for subtle perception. In English it is referred to as the 'frontal brain purification' technique. It is a similar practice to bhastrika pranayama except that exhalation is emphasised and inhalation is the result of forcing the air out.
Normal breathing is characterised by active contraction of only the inspiratory muscles, such as the diaphragm and external intercostals. Expiration occurs passively on the cessation of this contraction of the internal intercostals. Kapalbhati reverses this process -exhalation is active while inhalation is passive. This induces a reversal in the flow of the nerve impulses to and from the brain bringing about stimulation and awakening of the brain centres. There are three forms of kapalbhati: vatakrama, vyatkrama and sheetkrama.
Sit in a comfortable meditative pose, preferably sidhhasana or siddha yoni asana and prepare yourself as for meditation with the spine erect - close the eyes and relax - place hands in chin or gyana mudra - practise kaya sthairyam (complete body stillness) inhale deeply and perform 50 rapid respirations through both nostrils, placing more emphasis on exhalation. Inhalation should be short - after the last exhalation, inhale deeply through the nose and exhale quickly through the mouth, slightly pursing the lips - with kumbhaka, perform jalandhara bandha, moola bandha, and uddiyana bandha in this order, but almost simultaneously - maintain for as long as possible - before inhaling, release moola bandha uddiyana and jalandhara in this order - when the head is raised, inhale slowly through the nose - practise 3 rounds of 50 breaths - when this is perfected you can increase to 5 rounds -increase by 10 breaths each week so that after 5 weeks you are performing 100 breaths per round - after completing the practice concentrate for same time in chidakash.
In kapalbhati a greater number of respirations can be taken than in bhastrika pranayama because hyperventilation does not occur. You can increase to 200 breaths with months of practice, unless advised otherwise by your guru. Kapalbhati should be done after asana or neti but before concentration or meditation. If you experience dizziness while practising, you are using too much force, so stop and sit quietly and then continue with less force and more awareness. Inhalation should be spontaneous and not controlled, while exhalation should not make you feel breathless before completing the round.
The effects of kapalbhati and bhastrika are similar, but due to the forced and longer exhalation, kapalbhati affects the brain differently. Andre Van Lysebeth has quoted a physiological phenomena, that during normal inhalation the fluid around the brain is compressed and so the brain contracts very slightly. With exhalation this cerebrospinal fluid is decompressed and the brain very slightly expands. This is the mechanical influence of the respiratory cycle on the structure of the brain. Forced exhalation in kapalbhati increases the massaging effect on the brain by enhancing the decompression effect on every exhalation.
The average number of breaths being fifteen per minute means the brain is compressed and decompressed that many times, but in kapalbhati you breath 50-100 times, stimulating the brain 3-7 times more than normal per round. Kapalbhati also expels more carbon dioxide and other waste gases from the cells and lungs than normal breathing. In the "Gherand Samhita' the method of practising vatakrama kapalbhati is slightly different. Instead of breathing in rapidly through both nostrils, you inhale through the left and exhale through the right, then inhale through the right and exhale through the Left, as in nadi shodhana pranayama, except that the inhalation - exhalation is rapid.
The "Hathoratnavali" clarifies these two processes: "Fast rotation, of the breath from left to right or exhalation and inhalation through both nostrils together, is known as kapalbhati" (1:55) Thus the two systems are correct. However, to accelerate the breath while doing alternate nostril breathing is very difficult.
The next practice of kapalbhati, vyutkrama, is similar to jala neti and is sometimes given as part of neti. 'Vyutkmma' means 'expelling system' and for this practice you require a bowl of warm saline water rather than a neti lota.
Lean forward - scoop the water up in the palm of the band and sniff the water through the nostrils - let the water flow down into the mouth and then spit out the water - practise in this way several times.
It is important to relax while sucking the water in and there should be absolutely no fear. If there is any pain in the nose during the practice it usually means the water contains either too little or too much salt.
This practice, sheetkrama, is the reverse of vyutkrama. The word 'sheet' means 'cool' or 'passive'. In this practice you take a mouthful of warm salty water, but instead of swallowing it you expel it through the nose. You should remain relaxed throughout the practice.
The "Gherand Samhita" says that not only do these practices rid the sinuses of old mucus, but they also make one attractive and prevent the ageing process from occurring Kapalbhati helps relax facial muscles and nerves. It rejuvenates tired cells and nerves, keeping the face young, shining and wrinkle-free. The effects of vyutkrama and sheetkrama are the same as for jala neti. Spiritually they help to awaken ajna chakra.
According to the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika", "By the six karmas one is freed from excesses of the doshas. Then pranayama is practised and success is achieved without strain." (2:36) If the body is clogged with old mucus, bile and wind, the energy gained through pranayama practice will be utilised for rectifying your disorders. In fact, if you have any mucus blockages it may create such an acute problem that you cannot practise pranayama. First you have to rid yourself of excess mucus and bile and eliminate the toxins from your system. Proper assimilation and excretion have to be established, Pranayama is more effective in a healthy body.
The body has three faults - kapha (mucus), pitta (acid) and vata (wind). An imbalance in anyone or more of these causes disease. In the same way, the mind has three faults. The first is mala (impurity), the second is vikshepa (distraction), and the third is 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 float across your mind and the mind cannot be made steady because it keeps oscillating, that is vikshepa. When the mind is unable to understand itself, that is ignorance or avarna. Through the practice of the shatkarma the centres in the physical body which are responsible for arousing these doshas in the mind, are stabilised The shatkarma work on the physical body to influence the mind, brain waves and blockages of energy.
Although the shatkarma are very powerful and effective purifiers and harmonisers, pranayama will have to be practised afterwards to maintain the balance they have created. Otherwise impurities will re-accumulate very quickly and the body will soon fall back into its old patterns.
How does kapalbhati help in the awakening of ajna chakra?
Swami Niranjan: Breath, mind, prana and nadis are all interrelated and interconnected. Through the breath we can alter our mental states. We can change the flow of prana, and we can stimulate and activate the nadis. Therefore pranayama utilises the breath as the main means to control and direct the flow of prana and the awakening of the nadis in the system. At the same time, it helps to provide a balanced frame of mind.
It is not kapalbhati, which awakens ajna, but the reaction which takes place when we are able to perform a pranayama practice correctly, that helps to awaken various chakras. Kapalbhati stimulates the nerves. In turn they activate the nadis which then activate the pranas, and the pranas are attracted towards that region where some kind of activity is taking place in the structure of the nervous system, in the muscles, or in the general area, which in kapalbhati is the forehead. Due to concentration during practice, once the pranas gravitate towards the area, where the action is taking place, the corresponding chakra in that area may feel stimulation. With proper control, that stimulation will manifest into the awakening of a chakra.
Did the great hatha yogis like Yogi Gorakhnath achieve their 'immortality' by these shatkarmas alone, or did they combine them with other yogas? What is the longest time a hatha yogi has been known to have lived, and is immortality of the body really possible?
Swami Niranjan: Although it is commonly known by everyone that yogis like Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath practised and mastered hatha yoga, and propounded these practice for the benefit of the man in society, it should also be understood here that they, being yogis of high repute, had knowledge of, and mastery over, the other yoga practices as well. They did not confine themselves to a system of one yoga alone. They may have publicised and given a structure to the practices of hatha yoga because they realised that, unless mastery was attained over the body and mind, it would be difficult to unite the individual mind with the transcendental mind. So, in order to prepare the individual for the higher experience, they emphasised the need of gaining mastery over the manifest and psychological aspects of life.
Now, achieving immortality by the shatkarmas alone may or may not be possible. We cannot discount this belief as being mere fallacy, for a very simple reason. For a serious and sincere practitioner of yoga or hatha yoga, it is possible that, in the process of their gaining control of, and mastery over matter, they are able to transform it. This influencing or transforming of matter is known as siddhi.
Siddhis are understood in a very limited sense as meaning psychic power which one uses for display or for influencing the minds of others. However, Yoga believes that siddhi is total control over matter. A siddha can transform, alter or influence the nature of the elements. A person who is able to do that is known as a maha siddha. Such people are able to release their own personally from the cycle of birth and death in the physical world. Being jivanmuktas (liberated while still in the confines of prakriti) their will is sufficiently strong enough to enable them to do anything, anywhere and at any time. A maha siddha can maintain the body by altering the structure of matter for an indefinite period of time.
The question is whether a maha siddha would want to do that or not, because one who has attained that high state of consciousness is well aware of the laws of Nature and the Divine will. He is also well aware of the life-span of every thing, and the life-span in the confines of time, space and object is a very complex matter for the ordinary mind to understand.
It would not be out of context to mention here that, instead of maintaining the identity of the body for an extended period of time, say one hundred, three hundred or one thousand years, it would be easier for them to let the body follow its normal course, i.e., die, and with their higher mind, materialise themselves in any form or shape that they so desired. In this sense they would thus gain immortality.