Yoga can do wonders for the body and mind, but it requires a deliberate and mindful approach, says Steffany Moonaz, PhD. A registered yoga therapist, she researched yoga’s effects on people with arthritis when she was a grad student at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore. In order to reap the full rewards of yoga, you should start each session with deep breathing, and end each with relaxation, she says.

Here, Moonaz shares a step-by-step tutorial to the proper techniques for each.

DEEP BREATHING

1. Sit comfortably in a chair or on a mat on the floor with your back against a wall for support. If you have hip, back or knee pain, you might feel better sitting on a bolster or folded blankets, or with similar support under your knees.

2. Move your shoulders back and down over your hips; lengthen through your spine, relaxing your ribs and sternum; soften your jaw and face muscles; and close your eyes or keep your gaze soft.

3. Place one hand on your abdomen. When you breathe in, your abdomen should expand, moving toward your hand. As you exhale, your abdomen should move back toward your spine. Extend your breath so you inhale and exhale longer, with a slight natural pause at the top and bottom of each breath.

RELAXATION

1. Get comfortable, lying on your back in a quiet place, and position rolled up towels or blankets under joints that require extra support. You may want to darken the room and/or cover yourself with a blanket. You can also try elevating your legs on a chair, or lying on a sofa with your legs up on the sofa arm.

2. Tighten all of the muscles in your body, and then allow them to release. Feel the contrast, and repeat the process two more times.

3. Beginning at your toes, relax every muscle you can imagine, slowing moving up to the top of your head. When all of your muscles are relaxed, spend a few minutes being perfectly still, letting your mind relax. Let your breath be full and deep. When you are finished, slowly roll onto one side and bring yourself up to a seated position. Move your body slowly in whatever way feels comfortable as you become aware of the room around you and re-enter your day.

Did you know?

The Johns Hopkins research, funded in part by the Arthritis Foundation research program, revealed significant improvements in symptoms, strength, balance, mood and mobility for arthritis patients who regularly practiced yoga.