My darling, there’s no such thing as the light at the end of the tunnel, you must realize that you are the light.”
The teachings of yoga help us remember who we are. By this, I don’t mean remembering your name, job, and other demographic details (although that is useful too, living as an individual Jiva soul in this material realm!). Yoga helps us to go beyond these external details and remember the essence of who we are. We are reminded that at our core, we are light, whole, and as they say “whole/holy”.
But why do we need to remember?
Why don’t we just see it clearly, every moment of every day?
Perhaps there are obstructions blocking our view – like karmas, things we are holding onto, and dust from the past. Kapalabhati is one of the shat-karma (6 actions) kriyas (cleansing techniques). These kriyas are essential purification practices that help us resolve past karmas. Our teacher Sharon Gannon once said that, “our unresolved negative karmas can accumulate as toxins and cause an obstruction of the true reality – resulting in ignorance, sadness, and all forms of disease: physical, mental and spiritual.” When we practice kapalabhati we are literally exhaling out these obstructing factors. Often times when I instruct a basic kapalabhati in an Open class, I find myself suggesting to students that we let go of anything that isn’t helping our journey towards happiness and freedom. We do this by letting go of anything that is obstructing Truth, anything weighing us down, anything fogging the view.
Anger, jealousy, fear, self-doubt…
Exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale it out!
Exhale it out. In a sense, this is how kapalabhati works. In her book, “The Magic Ten and Beyond”, Sharon describes the kapalabhati practice and gives us different options to try ranging from simple to more complex. The practice itself always involves a forceful exhale, alongside a passive and naturally-occurring inhale. (A great description I once heard is to think of a basketball. The exhale is forceful like when you hit the ball down to the ground to dribble it. I am not a basketball player, but even I know that the ball will naturally bounce back up. (It would be an odd, inefficient move to reach down and pick the ball up every time it hit the ground as you run across the court dribbling). That natural bouncing back up is the inhale.
Effort on the exhale. Grace on the inhale.
The effort is the conscious, daily practice of clearing away anything that isn’t helping us as yogis, as Seekers of Peace and as Seekers of Truth.
The word kapalabhati itself is beautiful in Sanskrit: Kapal means skull and bhati is translated as shining. Throughout this daily practice, we are shining the skull, the crown chakra and the connection to God. We are shining the way to yoga! And what I love is that we aren’t asked to do this by thinking, thinking, and overthinking. Rather, we are given an active practice: something to try, something to do; something to trust, something to incorporate into our own lives.
I find that if I stick with it, over time there are noticeable shifts in how I see myself and how I see others. There is an illuminating light reminding us that our thoughts and fears are not real. We don’t have to accept them, and we certainly don’t have to hold onto them as if they were essential parts of our identities. We are invited to lighten the load, reduce the burden and shine the way to Truth. The beautiful thing is that yoga teaches us that Truth is a place of unity over separation, goodness over darkness, and light over obstruction, shining the way!
1. Read through the chapter “Shining the Way” in the Magic 10 book and select an option that fits into your own life. Make it work for you so that you can practice it,again and again, over time. Be sure to know that you are physically safe for this practice (if you have high blood pressure or are pregnant, practice standard breath with a mental focus of letting go).
2. Check in. Just notice what thoughts and beliefs are weighing you down. For me it is often doubting, feeling alone or feeling afraid. These thoughts are not who you are, so allow yourself to practice letting them go. Anger, jealousy, fear, doubt…exhale it out!
3. Practice with different seats (cross-legged sukhasana, lotus legs in padmasana etc.). Practice at different times of the day. Explore to see what works best. Notice how this may shift over time.
4. Think of a beautiful light, an image/presence that literally shines, and keep that image in your mind as you practice. That shine, that sparkle, that light is who you are: