A student goes to the Buddha. She says she wants to be wise. She asks the Buddha many questions. Each time the Buddha responds, the student augments the Buddha’s answers with her own ideas and experiences. Sometimes she disagrees with the Buddha too. She seems unable to receive any thoughts without conflating them with old ideas. Finally, the Buddha asks her to get him a cup of water. She places the cup of water before him. “I asked for a full cup of water, keep pouring,” he tells her. The woman adds more water, until the cup overflows. “Keep pouring, the cup should be full!” the Buddha says. “But it is already full!” the girl argues. “Nothing new can go in.” The Buddha smiles. The girl lapses into silence. She understands what the master is trying to tell her. In yoga, we have a practice called Kapalabhati. It is an exercise in emptying the mental cup, in letting go. It seeks to break patterns so we can prepare to receive something new.
How does it work? Where most other breathing exercises focus on inhalation, Kapalabhati emphasizes exhalation. And unlike many other yoga practices, it does not begin as a calming practice. Instead, it is energising, rapid, heat inducing and intense. However, the calm that is experienced after the practice is magical. This is because it cleanses the nasal passageways and sinuses, and ultimately supplies the brain with a fresh supply of oxygen-rich blood. It also cleanses the throat and lungs and stimulates the abdominal muscles and organs. But more importantly, it cleanses the mind of stressful, worrisome and anxiety inducing thoughts. The idea of this post is not that we passively accept what anyone tells us, without argument. We should certainly question things if they don’t feel right. However, when trying to learn something new, it usually helps to “empty one’s cup” so one can truly “receive” the teaching. Then, once we have received it, we are in a better position to embrace it or reject it.