You already know one of the best ways to relax your eyes! The problem? The common misconception in the western mindset is to consider this behaviour as a sign of boredom or sleepiness. Therefore society teaches us that it is very rude to do so publicly. Many people even train themselves to suppress it. But there is much more to it with many health benefits that are widely overlooked. The topic is yawning!
Treat yourself now
Stretch and take a good hearty yawn considering these steps:
- Stretch your arms over head and in all directions like you are just waking up.
- Fully open your mouth which stretches your ears and jaw.
- Tightly close your eyes and squeeze your face like you have eaten a lemon.
- Take a deep inhale through the mouth into the belly. This might even tickle at the back of your throat.
- Exhale completely and allow your face to fully relax and open your eyes again.
- Make an “Aaah” sound while exhaling to help your throat release tension as well.
- Softly blink a few times.
Repeat this and you will probably soon experience naturally involuntary yawns following up. Do not stifle by preventing yourself from yawning – but embrace them and lean into the yawn reflex. Notice how your body gets relaxed and you feel more awake. You might also experience that your eyes feel moist and even start tearing up.
Have you ever asked yourself why we really yawn?
Allowing yourself to yawn really feels good, doesn’t it? It is a behaviour present in most mammals including humans. There are many interesting theories and studies around it, but till today scientists have not reached a consensus why we do it. Olivier Walusinski wrote an interesting paper on the Historical Perspectives of the Mystery of Yawning if you are interested in studying the different theories in more detail.
I think that it has many benefits and is too complex to be reduced to just one reason.
Scientific studies hint that it is a mechanism to calibrate your body and release stress. Older theories suggest that it is a sign for the need of more oxygen and that a yawn brings fresh oxygen into the body cells including the eyes. Newer studies have linked yawning to temperature suggesting that it is a mechanism to cool down the brain. Since ongoing mental labour or sleep deficiency can raise the body and brain temperature this might explain why both lead to yawning.
Current tests can not proof an increase of brain’s electrical activity or heart rate after yawning. But even without proof – one does feel more alert and focused. Many athletes swear by it and yawn right before big performances. The same works as preparation before a presentation or during an exam.
Another evolutionary biological based explanation links yawning to our wake and sleep pattern. It is a signal to begin the day when waking up or a sign to go to bed. According to Patt Lind-Kyle, it can consequently help with jet lag as well. Yawn five times or so when leaving a plane to help the body reset and adjust to a different time zone. This has the additional benefit that it will pop your ears by equalising the pressure in your inner ear.
A sociological approached explanation is that we transmit boredom or stress to a social group. When yawning in a group it can also often be observed how contagious it is.
Studies have associated yawning with increased levels of dopamine. These neurotransmitters, also known as chemical messengers in the brain are related to “pleasure and relationship-bonding”. This explains why it feels so relaxing and improves our mood to yawn. When yawning together we can feel connected with the people around us.
As you might have felt yourself, it is also stretching the jaw and neck muscles and therefore allows to release tension in this often tensed area. On a deep yawn, even more muscles till down to your toes can contract and expand. This releases tension in the abdominal and solar plexus area as well.
What is even more interesting related to our eyes is that it stimulates the tear production. Tearing can help lubricate and clean the eyes. Therefore after a good yawn, the eyes will feel refreshed again. Especially when working at a screen we tend to stare and blink less frequently. Often we do not even notice how this leads to tired, strained and dry eyes.
According to Chinese medicine, yawning is a sign that fresh qi (the universal principle of energy) is needed and should be welcomed. It can help to balance the energy in the liver meridian which is linked to dryness of the eyes. Opposite to the western mindset in China yawning might even be taken as a compliment and as a sign that you feel free to relax.
It is a perfect and natural habit to start the day with a good yawn. It helps you to get up and you already granted your eyes something beneficial early in the morning. By the way – when you include the stretching it is called “pandiculation”.
Finish your day at bedtime with a few deep yawns. The relaxation might help you get to sleep easier.
Trust yourself when an involuntary yawn is coming upon you and welcome it. It is a signal that your body wants to improve its state for the better. Some eye treats and techniques might trigger yawning. This is a good sign that blockades are ready to be dissolved. Let them go with a hearty yawn instead of having tension build up further by preventing yourself from yawning.
It is sad that yawning has become such a taboo and one is told off for doing so from a young age. Yawning without stifle is one of the best techniques to relax your body, brain and eyes! Therefore we will call it therapeutic yawning and from now on you may do it as often as you feel like it! It might take some time to get used to this again. But after experiencing how refreshing it feels you might soon begin to do so intuitively and treat yourself to all the shown benefits.