Several years ago when I began studying Qigong as part of my East Asian Medicine training, I was surprised when my teacher encouraged us to yawn while practicing the repetitive and meditative movements. He had noticed the embarrassment of those of us in the class who had begun to yawn repeatedly and quickly pointed out that yawning was a sign we were actually doing the exercises correctly. He heartily reassured us that yawning was a key to deep relaxation and letting go of stress and tension. This was readily accepted by the exhausted and over-worked students in the class.
All vertebrates yawn. Even fish. And yet it is only we humans who learn to suppress such a natural phenomenon, led to believe yawning publicly is a rude demonstration of our disinterest or tiredness. As it turns out, not only is routinely suppressing your yawning detrimental to your health, yawning regularly throughout the day is really good for you.
Oscitation (yawning) and pandiculation (simultaneous yawning & stretching) have been shown to help regulate the temperature of the brain, which in turn can help reduce inflammation in the nervous system. It also releases a host of beneficial neurochemicals including oxytocin and dopamine.
Yawning plays an important role in helping us to transition from sleep to wakefulness and vice versa, and also in calming our nervous system and regaining mental clarity. It is also one of the only mechanisms that deeply stretches and relaxes the deep muscles in the face and inner ear.
So I encourage you to practice yawning. Yawn in the morning, yawn in the evening. Yawn at work when you’re feeling stressed and tired. Yawn to relax. Yawn to spread the joy of yawning. You’ll be doing those around you a favor!