So many simplified illustrations we encounter as kids give us a vague sense that our lungs are little balloons inflating as we breathe. But for respiration, what matters is surface area, not volume. Oxygen has to be pulled out of the air through the filter that is our lung tissue. So your lungs are actually full of little airways running through the tissue, like the space in bread.
When you exhale, it's like squeezing a sponge. But since our lungs are such a complicated shape, it's possible for some air to become trapped in a pocket that doesn't have a good path out. This "dead air" isn't really a problem, we typically carry some around pretty much all of the time. But it does contribute to our total lung capacity. This is one thing deep breathing exercises help with, purging dead air pockets and getting fresh air to more areas of the lungs.
THC gets in the same way oxygen does, whether you're smoking or vaping. So before you start smoking, a couple deep breaths will replace the pockets of dead air with fresh air, making it easier to deal with the lack of oxygen in your smoke or vapor.
Remember, what matters is not volume, but surface area. It is more important to coat your lungs than to fill them. Really big clouds might be cool for showing off at a party, but they aren't actually getting you higher. If you're hoping to be efficient, a smaller hit, with some fresh air sucked in afterwards, will cover the same surface area, won't hurt as much, and will still get you just as high.
With that in mind, think about how your faucet makes warm water, it mixes a stream of hot and a stream of cold. Try to do the same thing with your hits. The hot is the smoke or vapor, the cold is fresh air. You want a warm hit, because it will irritate your lungs less. As you take a hit, you can "sip" cold air from the corner of your mouth to balance the temperature. If that doesn't work, alternate between small sips of smoke or vapor through your mouth, and small sips of cold air through your nose, so they mix in your throat.
Aim to stop inhaling smoke/vapor about 2/3rds of the way to full lungs. You do not need to clear your piece in one hit, it's better to stop at the right amount, and then clear it with a follow up. After you stop inhaling the smoke or vapor, continue inhaling fresh air. This pushes your hit all the way down into your lungs, and leaves your throat a little cooler.
You can exhale as soon as you finish your inhale. It's OK to hold in a hit but there is no benefit to it after the first 2 seconds, and the vast majority of absorption happened already as you inhaled. When exhaling smoke or vapor, purse your cheeks out (like you're blowing a candle). It doesn't have to be much, but the added pressure helps you avoid trapping smoke in your lungs.
Finally, after a hit and an exhale, take a bit of time to breathe. It doesn't matter that the bowl or joint is cherrying, it doesn't matter if there's still smoke in the tube, taking a hit right after a hit is just a waste. Your lungs need a little fresh air to clean out, and be ready to absorb any more THC.
With a better understanding of what's happening inside, you can find a smoking rhythm for you. The sweet spot shouldn't leave you coughing terribly, shouldn't burn your throat, and should still bring you great highs. Good luck!
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