Dominique Lonchant knelt on the carpet in a corner of the room, peeled off his T-shirt, closed his eyes, and started to breathe deeply - so deeply, in fact, that the rhythmic inhalations and exhalations were audible from two metres away. As he took in a heavy lungful of air, and gently let it out again, Mr Lonchant's workout-fortified pectorals and rib cage moved in sync beneath the surface of the skin. He had so much breath in him, you could see it. Mr Lonchant had proved his point - that most people live on what he calls 'shallow breathing'. They take in just enough to get by, short snippets of oxygen that feed the heart, blood and brain. For the majority of people, breathing is an unconscious, unaware, unobserved act. There are no depths, no rhythms, no control to it. But Mr Lonchant believes that therein lies the source of many medical and emotional problems. There is an art and skill to breathing - and it is a function that should be practised and perfected. He calls it 'respiratory balancing', which focuses on the abdomen and thoracic cage. Mr Lonchant is a self-proclaimed 'professor of breathing', and plies the teaching of respiration as his trade. People who have attended his workshops or had private sessions claim to have benefitted from having learnt to breathe in a deliberate and controlled way: stress levels come down, recurrent asthma eased, they sleep better and generally experience a heightened sense of well-being. The Frenchman, who has been doing yoga for 17 years, was not quite the spiritualist I had imagined. Heavy-set, clad in jeans and a T-shirt, he took me through the basics of pranayama - a Sanskrit word for 'yoga breathing'. Mr Lonchant's mode of teaching the ancient technique involves gradually demonstrating 15 different poses that serve to open up the chest area and allow breath to reach special receptors deep inside the lungs. Sitting cross-legged on a sofa, Mr Lonchant took me through the first four supposedly basic - but actually rather unwieldy - poses, some of which involved pronounced back arches while kneeling, or breathing deeply while on hands and knees. Like anything else, said Mr Lonchant, the technique takes practice. 'You have to practise at least a few minutes every morning before you notice any difference. One session isn't going to cure anything.' Admittedly, the short series of initial poses stayed with me for about a week before being relegated to the pile of commitments that never were . . . at least until I spoke to some of Mr Lonchant's clients who raved about their new-found breathing techniques. 'You have to do your homework,' said Suzanne Scott-Chapman, a nurse and physical therapist. 'I began to feel asthmatic a few years ago because of the pollution and stress. I needed an inhaler to ease the tightness in my chest,' she said. Ms Scott-Chapman's sudden shortness of breath led her to Mr Lonchant, who spent a couple of hours with her every week showing her the pranayama poses. She practised the positions every morning. 'I noticed a difference quite quickly, even before I'd finished the exercises. I could just breathe better and my chest area felt as if it had opened up. 'It takes a bit of getting used to because your back and neck are in positions they are not accustomed to. But after a while, it becomes automatic,' she said. Marianne Cartier, a show production specialist, has now learned to control her breathing so well that a short series of exercises helps her to fall asleep. Every morning, she does six of the 15 poses. 'It has to be done regularly and seriously,' said Ms Cartier. 'Doing it just once in a while doesn't help at all.' Now, she says, she is much more composed and has greater clarity of thought and better concentration. Mr Lonchant comes across as something of an urban mystic, as his conversation oscillates from yoga to clairvoyance. As he made his way through a platter of fried chicken wings a few weeks after our first meeting, Mr Lonchant explained that the New Age industry is in 'a big crisis' as charlatans 'cheat naive people'. But he insisted that proper breathing was one of the few things anyone could learn to help increase their chances of a healthy and long life. 'People are living longer but they are not necessarily stronger,' he said. 'In the entire animal kingdom, humanity is the most diseased. And so many problems are due to faulty breathing,' he said. Mr Lonchant says he learned yoga and pranayama at the feet of an Indian mystic, Dr Swami Gitananda, in his ashram in Pondicherry, India. He lived in Brazil for 10 years before coming to Hong Kong. Eventually, he began giving classes in breathing and yoga, often visiting clients in their homes and offices for $750 an hour. 'Why do you think I am teaching it if it's not working?' he says, when I appear slightly dubious of his claims. 'I tell people to do their four postures every day to start, before working up to all 15 poses. After two months, they will have control over their breath and their thoracic cage will have significantly expanded. 'If they stop and their condition becomes bad again, it's not my fault. I'm not anybody's nurse.'