Stop what you’re doing and yawn seven (yes, 7) times. Your eyes may water, but it is worth it!
When we yawn, the powerful stretching of the jaw increases blood flow in the neck, face and head. The deep intake of breath during a yawn forces a downward flow of spinal fluid and blood from the brain and the refreshing air breathed into the mouth cools these fluids, regulating one’s temperature and metabolism. Popular belief is that we yawn because we are restless, sleepy, bored or sometimes even when we’re exposed to light, but neuroscience shows twelve (yes, 12!) benefits to yawning and proves that it is actually an important function of the body. While increasing our intellectual functioning as well as decreasing toxicity in our minds, a yawn activates mirror neurons that literally prompt one’s consciousness, empathy and self-reflection.
Yawning has a “reboot” function for the nervous system. We are able to increase our alertness, making us more cognitively aware; it wipes out the tiredness, refocuses us, relaxes us. As a college student, I may yawn in class, but that is not always because my professor may be uninteresting. It’s because it helps me stay focused on important concepts and ideas. Think of that, if I happen to find myself trapped in a room with a dull, monotonous teacher, yawning helps me stay awake. Yawning also increases our memory, enhances our sense of timing and lowers stress. Dogs yawn before attacking, Olympic athletes yawn before performing, and fish yawn before they change activities. So, it’s simple: if you want to maintain an optimally healthy brain, yawn. Yawn when you wake up, when you’re confronting a difficult problem at work, when you prepare to go to sleep, and whenever you feel anger, anxiety or stress. Yawn while studying for an exam or before you give an important speech or presentation. You’ll feel highly alert, incredibly relaxed and utterly present.
Patt Lind-Kyle, author of Heal Your Mind – Rewire Your Brain, tells us we can “reset” our body’s circadian rhythms (basically, our 24-hour “body clock” that tells our bodies when to sleep, eat and regulate other physiological processes) with a yawn and it lifts our moods. Dopamine levels rise as we yawn, activating oxytocin (pleasure or relationship-bonding chemicals). The more these chemicals are activated, the more we bring about feelings of happiness and connectedness with the people around us. Yawning, as I am sure you’re aware, is neurologically contagious. When you see someone yawn, you yawn too because the mirror neurons are triggered that cause you to mimic another person’s behavior or emotional state. It is a reenergizing process, transitioning us from one state of mind to another, such as from being asleep to being awake, from one physical task to another.
A common animal and human behavior, yawning clearly is beneficial, important and mannerly but the best part? It’s free!