Is Kapalabhati a Pranayama or a Kriya Technique?


I was told Kapalabati is not pranayama but kriya, is this true? If so what is the difference between pranayama and kriya

—marjorie, uk


Hello Marjorie,

Different yoga traditions use different terminology, and sometimes different meanings for the same terminology.

Before I explain more, let me offer a clarification: Many people reserve the word “pranayamas” for breathing techniques, as opposed to its broader, and truer, meaning: energy-control techniques. Well, for this discussion, let’s use the narrower meaning of breathing techniques.

Kapalabhati certainly involves breathing, and a lot of it, so it’s quite right to call it a pranayama. On the other hand, it’s also a cleansing technique: it cleanses the body of carbon dioxide and cleanses the mind of restlessness. Techniques that have a strong cleansing component are sometimes called kriyas. (Kriya just means action, so it’s a very generic term that applies to many different yoga techniques, including the Kriya Yoga meditation technique that Paramhansa Yogananda taught, which is not a cleansing technique.)

So there you have it: Kapalabhati is both a pranayama and a kriya. Some people might protest my saying that, but again, different yoga traditions do things differently. (There are cleansing techniques that have nothing to do with the breath, by the way.)

What’s one to do? Just practice the technique – safely, with self-honesty and common sense – and don’t worry about whether someone else wants it to be called something different from what you call it.

We go much deeper into the subtler aspects of pranayama practice in the Advanced Pranayama course at The Expanding Light. You might consider attending it next year when it’s offered again.