The power of the yawn
You never knew how the power of the yawn could supercharge you. It can help you lead a more mindful existence. Such a little act can help you in so many ways.
Sometimes before an Olympic performance, you can see athletes yawning. A dog often stretches and yawns before his owners take him outside. Fish yawn before they change activities.
They all know something you may not know: the yawn has the power to increase your focus, attention and mental clarity.
What’s in a yawn?
Humans around the world have yawned since the dawn of their evolution. This activity spans millions of years and reaches across hundreds of species.
It’s a five-second act. You open your mouth and stretch it to its widest capacity while taking a deep breath.
A number of things happen in that five seconds.
The brain releases a flurry of neural activities
The little act of yawning causes a number of processes to happen in the brain. Until recently, scientists did not know just how beneficial yawning really is.
The precuneus is a small structure that resides in the parietal lobe. It is responsible for self-awareness, it’s involved in actual consciousness, processing of information, enhances memory, and even compassion. The act of yawning stimulates this apparatus.
The things the precuneus does are things you might associate with meditation. Who’d a thunk?
The mirror neuron system
This is what’s behind “contagious” behavior. If you see someone yawning, particularly if you know the person, you’re likely to yawn, too.
Just reading or talking about yawning can cause a person to yawn, as well.
Because yawning is contagious, scientists surmise that it’s related to social behavior, as well as emotional attachment. You might actually have increased feelings of empathy from yawning!
This one is a biggie. You can help yourself to relax by taking slow, deep breaths. That’s why any good meditation will start with deep breathing.
A yawn is, effectively, a big, deep breath. You take in a lot more oxygen and squeeze the little blood vessels going to the brain to give it more nutrients. The brain, in turn, knows it’s a good time to relax.
The brain releases beneficial neurotransmitters
Opioid peptides have to do with pain relief, euphoria, and can reduce pain.
Yawning also releases oxytocin, a neurochemical responsible for helping people to bond with each other (i.e. emotional attachment), regulate temperature, and help reduce anxiety.
Serotonin can contribute to well-being and happiness, and affects mood. This is what doctors often prescribe to patients who have symptoms of depression.Help yourself become more aware, focused and alert. Practice yawning! Click To Tweet
Other things that happen with a yawn
The activities that happen in the brain from a simple yawn don’t stop there.
The yawn is likely to be an evolutionary trick for the brain to cool itself. When temperatures rise, you’re more likely to experience yawning. This is the brain’s way of getting fresh (and cooler) oxygen and blood.
Another way yawning benefits the brain is by compensating for higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air. When you’re in a crowded room, more people consume available oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. The brain will compensate by instigating a yawn to increase vital oxygen intake.
Greater mental focus
Given the neurotransmitters at play, higher levels of blood and oxygen, as well as the activation of certain brain structures, it’s no wonder you’ll experience greater alertness and mental focus.
When you’re concentrating hard on a project, you’ve probably noticed that you tend to yawn more frequently. There’s a lot of energy required to fuel your brain.
A soft re-boot
Given all the beneficial processes that happen as a result of yawning, it’s a great way to do a “soft re-boot.” If sleep is a “hard re-boot,” yawning gently resets the brain to create more alertness and attention.
You’ll feel more tears on the surface of your eyes, you’ll think more clearly, and you’ll be more attuned to those around you. In effect, you’ll help the brain to perform optimally through yawning!
It’s a good idea to get yourself to yawn during the day as often as you can. The book, How God Changes Your Brain suggests that you “fake yawn” until you can bring on a real yawn.
It might take five or six times, but by invoking the power of the yawn, you unleash a barrage of good-for-you brain processes.
Because a yawn can help stave off anxiety, improve mood, and help you to relax, it is great for whenever you experience stressful events, or if you’re feeling some anxiety.
Got a speaking engagement? Yawn before going on stage. Got a test you’re taking? Yawn before you begin. Got a big project you’re working on? Yawn periodically while you’re working.
There is a lot of power packed into five seconds, and you’ll probably never look at a yawn the same again.
Admit it: you probably yawned while reading this.