At a time when both yoga and meditation are taking the world by storm, the thousands-of-years-old exercise called Breath of Fire has suddenly become immensely popular. And it is easy to see why.
There are many benefits of Breath of Fire meditation. It helps to relieve stress, improve brain function, and improve respiratory healing. It is a powerful type of breathwork that is relatively easy to do even for newcomers.
Let’s look at what it is, the benefits, and how to do it properly. And you will probably want to read my list of the best meditation breathing exercises.
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What Is Breath Of Fire?
Breath Of Fire is one of the most popular breathing meditations. It is a form of pranayama (breath control), which is one of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. It also goes by the names “Skull Shining Breath”, “Agni Pran”, and Kapalbhati pranayama (Sanskrit meaning “skull illuminating”) and is one of the exercises of Kundalini Yoga., which Yogi Bhajan brought to the West in the 1970s.
There are many benefits of the practice. You can use it to reduce chronic pain, improve mental health, and increase core strength. Plus, it is said to strengthen the physical aura to help to protect us from negative energy.
How to Do Breath Of Fire Meditation Properly
- Sit with crossed legs. You can use Lotus Position if you like. Make sure your spine is straight but relaxed. Roll your shoulders back then open them out a little, which will open your chest area making it easier to breathe. You want to create space between your navel and your heart.
- Close your eyes and mouth.
- Place one hand palm-down on your upper thigh. Place the other and on your abdomen so you can feel your breath moving. The breathing technique is powered from the solar plexus and navel. When you exhale, forcefully push the air out of your nose by contracting the navel and solar plexus towards the spine. This will cause the diaphragm to contract, forcing air out of the nose.
- Mindfully observe the air flowing out of you as you exhale, pressing your abdomen in.
- Inhale by releasing the contraction of the solar plexus and navel. This will cause your abdominal muscles to relax. Your diaphragm will then extend downwards as air enters through your nose. When you inhale, imagine that your diaphragm is like a balloon filling with air.
- Gradually increase your speed. Your breath will be loud and fast. You want to aim to make your inhales and exhales last the same amount of time, so you’re establishing a rhythm. You should aim for around three breaths per minute, but make sure that the breath is controlled and that you’re not hyperventilating.
- Once you’ve finished, continue to meditate but relax and stop forcing your inhales and exhales. Let the breath come and go naturally (like you do when practising Anapanasati).
- Note that to practice properly you should keep your chest, arms, hands, legs, and feet relaxed at all times.
- When you are just starting, aim for around one minute and then gradually increase to three minutes. At advanced stages, you will be able to practice for up to ten minutes at a time.
So that’s how to do it. Now let me share with you some of my favourite tips so you can make sure you’re doing it correctly.
When you’re taking breaths, aim to make inhales and exhales the same length and do not pause between them. Always breathe through the nose.
You can make kapalbhati pranamaya more effective by exhaling until the point where you can feel energy rising naturally in your stomach. Let this energy take over as you naturally take a big inhale. You will still feel energised, but it will be a more natural energy that is causing the inhalation.
Avoid paradoxical breathing
Some people pull the belly in when they inhale. This leads to there being less space for your diaphragm to move, so you will not be able to take in as much air. Place your hand on your abdomen and check that your belly moves out when you inhale.
Do not exaggerate the pumping of your belly. This is not Bellows Breath.
If you have sinus issues
Be careful if you ever practice this technique when you have sinus issues. If you have any kind of respiratory problem (like asthma), make sure you consult a healthcare professional before starting.
Are you making a funny face?
If you notice that you are making funny facial expressions (such as squinting) or that there is tension in your body (such as clenched fists) you are not performing correctly. Stop. Relax. Now try again with more ease.
Gradually increase practise time
You will probably want to practice Breath of Fire for more than 3 minutes. This is a mistake a lot of beginners make. As you probably know, most meditations last twenty minutes or longer, but this one is different. It is a short and intense practice and should not be done for long periods. Once you have practised the method a few times, you can go for a little bit longer, but don’t exceed 10 minutes.
Improves respiratory function:
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research shows that it exercises the respiratory system, strengthening the lungs and diaphragm. By strengthening the diaphragm, it also helps to reduce muscles cramps that can occur in the bronchial tubes.
Research published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research in 2014 shows that pranayama (yoga breathing exercises) may help memory, concentration, and other cognitive functions.
A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that people who practice Breath of Fire yoga have higher levels of mindfulness.
Calms the mind
When you breathe properly you are naturally more relaxed, right? Well, by regularly practising Breath Of Fire you will cleanse your lungs and diaphragm. In turn, this will make your breathing easier and more relaxing. In turn, your mind will naturally calm.
Improves core strength
When you practice Kapalabahti pranayama you exercise your abdomen rigorously. Hello, Six Pack. One study published in 2017 in the International Journal of Yoga found that it could even help treat gastroesophageal reflux disease [source].
It helps circulate blood around your body more efficiently, and this removes toxins, helping your body to detoxify.
By eliminating toxins and relaxing both the mind and body, it reduces pain and soothes your aching muscles. This can help with chronic pain, and it can also help you to relax after a workout if you have strains
Research shows that regular practice helps reduce negative emotions, lowers stress, and fights anxiety and depression. You can really feel the emotional release when you practice Kapalbhati pranayama.
Forget brain training, Kapalbhati pranayama will strengthen your cognitive function in just a few weeks. The increased blood flow to the brain helps your neurons to stay active, boosting cognitive functioning.
The International Journal Of Medical & Pharmaceutical Sciences conducted a study in which they asked young and healthy participants to practice Kapalbhati pranayama for 12 weeks, starting with 30 times for one minute a day, and gradually increasing.
The researchers concluded that “12 weeks of Kapalabhati pranayama training showed improvement in the cardio-respiratory parameters with a significant decrease in [respiratory rate].
“[These benefits] may be attributed to a calm and stable mind-emotion complex in our subjects. Hence, we conclude that pranayama training is useful in reducing [respiratory rate] through psychosomatic mechanisms.
“In turn, this enhances the health and well being of young subjects.”
They also state that it reduces sympathetic nervous system activity to reduce the “fight or flight” response and may increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system
Side effects & contradiction
If you are not used to doing deep-breathing exercises, you may experience minor side-effects of kapalbhati pranayama. You might experience mild dizziness or light-headedness. This is normal. It is only because you are not used to taking in so much breath. If you do start to experience more severe side-effects, stop immediately and switch to a more relaxed, easier meditation technique.
Do not use the method if you have:
- Respiratory infections
- Cardiac problems
- Spinal disorders
- Are pregnant
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison