These 2 Essential Breath Practices Will Help You Create Space Within to Access Intuition

At his home yoga studio in Salt Lake City, Santosh Maknikar brought his community together for a complete yoga practice, including kriya and pranayama practices he incorporates into his daily life and trainings.
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Santosh Maknikar Yoga Teacher

Santosh Maknikar, Salt Lake City-based yoga teacher, shared two essential pranayama practices—Kapalabhati and Kumbhaka—with the Live Be Yoga ambassadors

Live Be Yoga ambassadors Lauren Cohen and Brandon Spratt are on a road trip across the country to sit down with master teachers, host free local classes, and so much more—all to illuminate the conversations pulsing through the yoga community today. 

While Yoga for People and Santosh Yoga Institute founder Santosh Maknikar is not gracing the cover of magazines or racking up Instagram followers, he is in every sense a master teacher. Since he was a little boy in India, yoga has been ingrained in him; he was first introduced to the practice at the age of five.

For Santosh, yoga is a way of being. He shares his lifetime of wisdom with his local community by offering classes and teacher trainings in his home and hosting community events to offer yoga to those who may not otherwise have access to it.

In Salt Lake City, we had the opportunity to meet him in his basement studio, practice with his community, and share a homemade kitchari meal in his home. 

During our time together, Santosh led us through what he considers two of the most important breathing exercisesPracticed one after the other, they help practitioners create space within and access intuition.

We began focusing on exhalations, because we must start by clearing and cleansing the system. “Just like having glass of water, we first want to empty the glass and clean it before refilling,” said Santosh.

Kapalabhati (Skull-Shining Breath)

Kapalabhati breath is the most important pranayama practice we can do,” says Santosh. In Sanskrit, kapala translates to "forehead" and bhati means "light." 

“In the old days you could tell how enlightened a person was by looking at how shiny their forehead was,” he joked. In fact, there’s some truth to that: In this specific kriya (cleansing technique), the blood flows to the brain and activates the frontal cortex to help cultivate clarity and connect to intuition.

Kapalabhati can be done anytime the belly is completely empty. Santosh recommends practicing for one minute every day, beginning with 50-100 exhales per round and slowly building a capacity to stay with it for longer periods of time. The key, however, is to meet yourself where you are, and start slowly at a pace and length of time that feels appropriate for you.

Practice Kapalabhati:

Step 1: Find a comfortable seated position on your mat or cushion on the floor, ideally with your knees touching the earth or a blanket beneath them. You can sit cross-legged in Sukhasana (Easy Pose) or on a block on the shins in Virasana (Hero Pose).

Step 2: Keep the chin parallel to the floor and your arms soft and natural, either cupping your knees with your hands or holding the belly. Close the eyes gently or keep a soft, natural gaze.

Step 3: Inhale fully and begin taking sharp, quick exhalations, pulling the belly in all the way in each time. You won't intentionally inhale in between these sharp exhales; the air will naturally re-enter your lungs after each pump.

*Begin with 50 rounds, then build up to 100, 200 and so on.

Contraindications: Always start slowly and build your capacity to practice this breath over time. Kapalabhati is may cause anxiety or dizziness; if you experience this, slow down or pause. Avoid this breath if you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, acid gastric issues, heart disease, or abdominal pain.

Kumbhaka Pranayama (Breath Retention)

Kumbhaka includes two types of practices, depending on whether you hold your breath at the top of the inhalation (antara) or at the bottom of the exhalation (bhaya). As you hold the breath at the top of the inhalation or at the bottom of the exhalation, Santosh says, you enter a deeper state of consciousness and may even increase lifespan. This breath practice offers benefits to the digestive, respiratory, and nervous systems.

Practice Antara Kumbhaka (Breath Retention on the Inhale):

Step 1: Set the timer for 30-60 seconds to begin.

Step 2: Sit tall, close the eyes softly, and keep the chin parallel to the ground.

Step 3: Inhale for as long as you can (start with 8-10 counts or the amount of time that feels comfortable for you), filling your lungs fully and pausing for 5-10 counts at the very top.

Step 4: When you feel you cannot hold any longer, gently and slowly exhale from your mouth.

Step 5: Repeat until the timer goes off.

Practice Bahya Kumbhaka (Breath Retention on the Exhale):

Step 1: Set the timer for 30-60 seconds to begin.

Step 2: Sit tall, close the eyes softly, and keep the chin parallel to the ground.

Step 3: Take a full inhale. Exhale completely (start with 8-10 counts or the amount of time that feels comfortable for you), and pause for 5-10 counts at the very bottom.

Step 4: When you feel you cannot hold any longer, gently and slowly inhale through your nose.

Step 5: Repeat until the timer goes off.

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