A healthy person breathes in and out about 21,600 times a day. Regular breath comes out of the body at about 16 widths of fingers from the body.
During walking, sleep, sexual intercourse, etc, breath may be perceived at about 20, 24 or respectively 30 finger widths. Violent physical exercises can make this distance about 96 finger widths. When this distance of the breath out of the body stays in the regular limit you will have the benefit of a long and healthy life. If the breath goes beyond that distance you will live less according to some philosophies.
We usually use only 1/6 of our lungs' capacity and the upper parts of the lungs are left unused. Pranayama helps develop the maximum capacity of the lungs. Activating the lungs to their maximum capacity helps one gain excellent health, vitality and force.
The great majority of the people breathe irregularly and erratic/chaotic it is no surprise their lives reflect this also. Fear, anxiety, tension, passion, violent emotions, diseases, troubles of all kinds, lead to a superficial erratic breath leading to an abnormal flow of prana through the nadis.
Pranayama is the tool to normalize and to control the breath in order to reach physical, energetic, and subtle purification and control of the prana through the nadis making the breath and the lungs' movements regular. When the breath becomes regular the flow of prana circulating through the nadis will become regular. Such purification leads to mental control and balance of your whole being.
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