How forceful exhalation helps tone body and mind

Kapalbhati is a part of Pranayam kriya that has been in vogue ancient India where one forcefully exhales rapidly and in short bursts. Practitioners of yoga say it helps in cleaning the lungs and in exercising the abdomen muscles. It is therefore recommended for reducing tummy fat. This exhalation exercise can be practiced by either sitting cross-legged on the floor or even in a chair.  The air is exhaled forcibly and in short bursts.  This process is further helped by thinking that by exhaling this air one is cleaning the brain of its pollutants.  The reflex action of this forceful exhalation then tones the abdomen muscles and also cleans the lungs.

Anil K. Rajvanshi Feb 12, 2020
Yoga. (Representational Picture)

Kapalbhati is a part of Pranayam kriya that has been in vogue ancient India where one forcefully exhales rapidly and in short bursts. Practitioners of yoga say it helps in cleaning the lungs and in exercising the abdomen muscles. It is therefore recommended for reducing tummy fat. This exhalation exercise can be practiced by either sitting cross-legged on the floor or even in a chair.  The air is exhaled forcibly and in short bursts.  This process is further helped by thinking that by exhaling this air one is cleaning the brain of its pollutants.  The reflex action of this forceful exhalation then tones the abdomen muscles and also cleans the lungs.

The word Kapalbhati means skull illumination. Yogis in ancient India claimed that practicing it cleans the brain and gives shining quality to a person’s appearance. Modern science may give credence to this claim.

Recently researchers have shown that nanoparticles  - particle size of 10-30 nanometers which are almost 10-20 times smaller than those emitted in cigarette smoke - can directly reach the brain through nose breathing and bypass the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). 

Medical researchers have known since 1941 that small amounts of fine particles that were inhaled through nose could be lodged in the brain by breaching BBB. However, this field of research remained dormant till the 1990s when scientists, alarmed by rising environmental pollution, visited the early research and started discovering the harmful effects of toxin invasion of brain through breathing.

Today rapidly growing research shows that a small part of the polluted air we breathe through our nostrils goes directly to the brain via the olfactory lobes (this is the area which gives us the sense of smell) and the rest (major portion) goes to the lungs supplying the necessary oxygen to the blood. Thus the action of inhaling affects both the mind and the body directly. 

Medical researchers have also shown that though the pollutants are most of the times flushed out of the lungs by body’s immune system the toxic particles in the brain go on accumulating.

This has alarming implications for modern living since the inhaled pollution from household and automobile smoke, dust and general industrial environment has the ability to directly affect the nervous system. Recently scientists have shown that incidences of increased cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, etc., have been attributed partly to the toxin invasion of the brain caused by these pollutants.

There are however indications that some of these small particles might be flushed out by the cerebrospinal fluid which floods the brain. This happens mostly during sleep. During the dreaming episodes this flushing mechanism is very active. However not all the particles leave the brain and hence affect the brain functioning.

Since these small particles go into the brain through the olfactory lobe it is quite possible that they could be flushed out by the forceful exhalation of Kapalbhati process. This follows the principle of equivalence.

The forceful exhalation of breath creates a venturi effect in the nasal passage thereby creating a partial vacuum which might suck out these particles from the olfactory lobes. Natural designs are very efficient and take into account all paths and forces. Thus the forceful exhalation of breath not only exercises the abdomen muscles but also cleans the lungs and the brain. This cleaning of toxins from the brain is the true meaning of Kapalbhati.

Kapalbhati however should be done in moderation. About 5 minutes of this kriya done daily in morning and evening on nearly empty stomach is good enough to see its beneficial effects. Since Kapalbhati helps improve the breathing and air passage systems of the body it might also help prevent flu and cold, though not enough scientific studies have been done on this aspect.

For people living in the present polluted atmosphere a good strategy would be to wear a nose mask which filters out the pollutants during outdoor activities and practice Kapalbhati daily to remove the particles which inadvertently might have gone into the system. Naturally, it is preferable if we reduce pollution in our cities so that the air becomes clean. Then the loading of brain with pollutants can be drastically reduced.

(The writer is Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI)/www.nariphaltan.org, Phaltan, Maharashtra. He can be contacted at anilrajvanshi@gmail.com)