Recently, a conversation arose about the dangers of prolonged and forceful Pranayama (Yogic breathing techniques). A friend, and colleague, was discussing pushing the limits of Bhastrika and Kapalbhati to the point of neuron damage, within the brain.
It is true that some Yoga teachers and students are unaware of the dangers of prolonged Bhastrika and Kapalbhati. These two Pranayama techniques are classified as hyper-ventilation. If this means nothing, the short example below will open your awareness to the potential hazards.
When I was a child growing up in the United States, my family moved around the country quite a bit. It was not uncommon for children to play fainting or “passing out” games by practicing hyper-ventilation for prolonged periods of time, until they fainted, which is proven to result in neuron damage within the brain.
Children do foolish things. Luckily, we tired of those games and moved on to less dangerous games. Bhastrika and Kapalbhati are therapeutic when performed in moderation; however, there is a “dark side” of forcing these intense methods beyond the maximum limits.
The dark side is to get brain damage from overdoing something that appears harmless. So, what are the limits of Bhastrika and Kapalbhati? In the case of Bhastrika and Kapalbhati, there is a 10 minute maximum time limit, per day, and per technique, for advanced practitioners, of these two forms of Pranayama.
For healthy beginners, it is better to break up their Bhastrika and Kapalbhati practice into one or two minute segments – with the understanding that 10 minutes total is the absolute limit.
However, some Yoga teachers will tell healthy beginners to stop at five minutes; just to be sure they are not tempted to push their natural limits. If a student begins to feel light headed, he, or she, should take a rest. This is not a contest.
For most beginners, we start at one minute, and no more. Later, we gradually build up the time to 3 or 4 minute segments. It is safer to add one minute segments, with a rest in between the segments. For seniors, in good health, we start at 30 seconds and no more. Later, we gradually build up to one minute, only.
Apparently, the ancient Yogis made a few mistakes along the way, and lost a few practitioners, as a result of overdoing it. I personally love Bhastrika and Kapalbhati, but much like the ocean, these two forms of Pranayama deserve respect.
To make it crystal clear: The path of moderation, which is also known as the “Middle Way,” is the safest of all the paths. In Yoga, and in life, there should never be extremes, even when our egos are tempted to push the maximum limits.
© Copyright 2008 – Paul Jerard / Aura Publications