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Feb. 20, 2014 Volume 35, No. 20

Get better sleep through yoga and relaxation breathing

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Andrea Kimura, a health educator and yoga instructor at the Student Health Center, leads a Yoga for Sleep class in the Newman Center. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

University of Missouri offers several yoga programs for students, staff and faculty

With twin 5-year-olds running around the house, Heidi Stallman’s bedtime routine is anything but routine. The doctoral candidate in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics rarely gets enough sleep and is frequently tired in the morning. 

Stallman isn’t alone. According to the American College Health Association, not enough sleep is the No. 2 problem reported by college students across the nation. Stress is No. 1. Although MU offers numerous stress-reduction programs, until recently there wasn’t a program that specifically addressed sleep. 

In fall 2013, Andrea Kimura, a health educator and yoga instructor at the Student Health Center, launched Yoga for Sleep, a four-week program designed to teach students about the science of sleep and equip them with practical tips and easy yoga poses to help them slow their minds and get better rest. 

When Stallman heard about the pilot program, she was quick to register.

“I felt tired a lot and hoped to learn sleep and relaxation habits that would help me get a better night’s sleep,” Stallman said. “I especially wanted the sleep I did get to be higher quality.”

Although the program is for students, Kimura said the yoga postures and sleep strategies she teaches apply to anyone struggling to get a good night’s rest. 

One of the most effective ways to sleep well is to practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and meditation. In the Yoga for Sleep program, Kimura teaches a specific yoga pose and pairs it with relaxation breathing. For example, students learn the “Elevated Legs-Up-the-Wall” pose. The pose simulates what happens naturally during sleep: Blood leaves the limbs and travels to the body’s torso. With the feet on the wall, the pose forces the blood to the core. Paired with relaxation breathing — giving full attention to the breath, inhaling while slowly counting to three, exhaling while slowly counting to four — the practice calms the mind and body. 

“Most Westerners get the monkey mind,” Kimura said. “ ‘My toe itches. What am I going to wear tomorrow? What is next on my to-do list?’ It’s the ruminating mind that keeps the brain awake. This [pose] temporarily takes you out of your head and into your body. When you release those thoughts in your head — all the to-do lists, the past, the future — when those thoughts are put away, you’re listening to your breath. And then you can give in to the fatigue from the day.”

More than 30 students have completed the Yoga for Sleep course, and preliminary results have demonstrated that the intervention has positive effects on the quality of sleep and reduces stress. 

Stallman practices relaxation techniques for about 15 minutes before bedtime, and she turns off electronics early in the night. 

“My only problem these days is that I don’t always sleep enough,” Stallman said. “But I sleep well as long as my twins are sleeping well.” 

Though Kimura’s course is for students, other campus yoga programs are for staff and faculty. Employees can attend a Gentle Yoga class taught by Sandy Matsuda from 12:10 to 12:50 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday at the Dalton Research Center. Each class is $3. For more information, email Matsuda at

Campus employees can also take advantage of a new program offered by University of Missouri Extension called Taking Care of You. Starting March 4, the eight-week course will explore ways to deal with stress and live a healthier life. For more information or to register by Feb. 25, visit

— Kelsey Allen