YAWN TO REFRESH YOUR BRAIN

When my 4 sons were growing up  we had a wonderful dog, a German Shepherd mix who tolerated all kinds of young boy behavior. One activity that never failed to produce peals of laughter was when they could get Alice to imitate their yawns. They discovered at a young age that yawns are contagious.

Yawning can be seen in human fetuses as early as 11 weeks, but it isn’t just humans and dogs who yawn. All mammals as well as birds and fish have been seen yawning. It’s particularly common among primates.

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Curiosity about yawning goes back to the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates speculated that humans yawn to expel bad air when suffering from a fever. More recent research seems to support that idea in that the behavior cools the brain.

The more obvious conditions  we associate with yawning are boredom and sleepiness. But studies about yawning indicate that it can be helpful in waking us up, when our lose our focus, or change behaviors. Maria Konnikova, in an article in the New Yorker, tells us that Olympic athletes yawn before an event, musicians before a performance and paratroopers before a jump often yawn.

Years ago I attended a workshop about the subject given by a psychologist. She extolled the benefits of deliberately yawning as do Andrew Newberg, MD and Mark Robert Waldman  in their book, How God Changes Your Brain.

They report that in recent brain-scan studies that yawning produces neural activity in the area of the brain related to consciousness, self-reflection and memory retrieval, and they encourage frequent yawning for their readers. Waldman, who teaches in the Business School at Loyola University in Los Angeles, promotes yawning and slow stretching every hour to reduce stress and refresh the brain. I have found it is helpful. My problem is remembering to do so.

THE TAOIST FARMER

I’ve been thinking a lot about this guy, The Taoist Farmer, lately. He’s been a big help in seeing  recent events from a broader perspective than just the latest crisis.

This farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to condole over his terrible loss. The farmer said, “What makes you think it is so terrible?”*

My computer wouldn’t turn on. In order to relieve the stress I felt about it, I began pulling the hair on my head and the weeds in my garden.

A month later, the horse came home–this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer’s good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said,

“What makes you think this is good fortune?”

When I finally got a working computer with everything transferred to it I found photos from 8 to 10 years ago that had been buried somewhere on the C Drive. I was happy!

The farmer’s son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, “What makes you think it is bad?”

My replacement computer came with Windows 8 operating system. I’d had Windows 7 on my old one. How the heck am I supposed to find what I’m looking for now?

A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer’s son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. “What makes you think this is good?” said the farmer.

Now I look out on a weed-free (almost) garden, and have been planting drought-tolerant succulents and grasses, something I thought I’d never get time to do.

*As told by Executive editor, Elise Hancock, in the Johns Hopkins Magazine, November 1993, page 2, in section entitled Editor’s Note.