Have you ever noticed Olympic athletes yawning before a competition? Maybe you’ve heard that snipers are taught to yawn before they pull the trigger? Or perhaps you’ve experienced yawning before a big event like meeting your partners’ parents for the first time? Or taken a sneaky yawn or two when anxiously preparing for a big presentation? Or maybe just watching someone yawn or even reading about yawning makes you yawn (go on you know you want to!) Or possibly you’ve never given yawning a second thought other than it is rude to do it in public, embarrassing or annoying!
Not all yawns are the same. We have the ability to yawn throughout our entire lives, from babies in utero, to kids and into our old age. We yawn more in winter than Summer and less as we get older. On average people yawn between 5-15 times per day for about six seconds each time. We often find ourselves yawning when we get up in the morning, when we go to bed, when we are tired, as a way to release ear pressure with a ‘pop’ at high altitude or even because we have just seen someone else yawning – it’s contagious!
Why do we yawn? Until a few years ago, most people thought yawning was a sign of boredom – a way to gulp down air to wake up a fuzzy brain or more recently as a way to cool down the brain.
The latest scientific research is now showing that yawning can be used as a brilliantly simple and very effective way to reduce mental stress. According to Mark Waldman, author and neuroscience researcher, (and over 40 evidence based studies) mindful yawning it is the ultimate stress relief tool.
The humble yawn has been proven to:
– Stimulate alertness and concentration.
– Optimise brain activity and metabolism.
– Improve cognitive function.
– Increase memory recall.
– Enhance consciousness and introspection.
– Lower stress.
– Relax your upper body.
– Fine-tune your sense of time.
– Increase empathy and social awareness.
– Enhance pleasure and sensuality.
The first line of defence against the effects of stress. The key to reducing stress through yawning is to do it mindfully – a casual six second-try-and- cover-it-behind-your-hand yawn isn’t enough! You need to breathe deeply with the flow of the yawn, add a bit of tone (“ahh!”) to the exhalation and be really mindfully aware of the process as you do it.
Let’s do a mindful yawning experiment: Firstly just check in with yourself and notice how you are feeling in your body. Ask your intuition how relaxed do I feel now on a scale of 1 to 10?
Now close your eyes and begin by taking a deep breath and stretching your mouth wide open into a great big yawn – really exaggerate it! You can fake it at first, and if you make an “ahh” sound during exhalation it’s likely you will be able to trigger a series of real yawns on your fourth or fifth try.
Just be present to that yawn and notice if you feel any difference in your mental state or your mood. You might not notice anything and if so that is perfectly fine. If you did feel a change
then please take a moment to really savour that experience – you don’t have to think about it, just let that sense really flow through you.
Now try a second mindful yawn and see if you discover anything new or different. Yawn as mindfully as possible paying equistitive attention to all the sensations you experience in your body. Do you feel more relaxed and alert? Tired? Have your eyes started watering? What do you notice this time? Whatever your feel, savour it, and take a moment to really let that flow through you.
Continue to yawn mindfully another ten to twelve times. And as you continue to yawn, pay close attention to the sensations in your lips, mouth, throat, neck, chest and belly.
Now pause and notice the different body sensations you are having. Do you feel more relaxed and alert? Or more creative, quiet and still? or something else? You may find you can’t stop yawning which is a good thing as it means your body is now ridding itself of all the excess stress it has built up over the last few days.
Finally just check in with yourself again and notice how you are feeling in your body. Ask your intuition how relaxed do I feel now on a scale of 1 to 10?
The best time to practice mindful yawning is when you wake up, if you feel stressed and when trying to solve a problem / deal with a challenge. I now set an alarm on my phone to remind me to mindfully wan 10- 12 times every hour which helps me stay in a relaxed and alert state enabling me to get the best out of myself all day.
Enjoy your yawning and please feel free to share your experiences!