Treat Yourself — to a Yawn!

By Jolyon Cowan, MPH
Mind/Body Program Yoga Instructor
The Domar Center for Mind/Body Health



Yes, I just asked you to yawn!

So — how does it feel?  Do you feel more open and relaxed?  When was the last time anyone asked you to yawn, if ever? 

The Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary defines the verb to “yawn” as follows: to open the mouth wide and take a deep breath usually as an involuntary reaction to fatigue or boredom. 

Yet when I yawn purposefully, in that very moment at least — I don’t feel exhausted or even a hint of boredom.  I feel as if I’m melting from the inside, I’m allowing the day’s tensions to fall away in that wide mouthed exhalation.

In that subtly lies the beauty of the age old practice of yoga.  While some may think yoga is nothing more than a series of strange physical postures coming from a far away sub-continent, in reality it is much, much more.  Historically the asanas, or literally steady poses, were developed by yoga practitioners to gain a deep state of peace and calm, or samadhi. 

In the West, with our focus on fitness and competition, we can sometimes loose site of the fact that yoga isn’t necessarily just about being able to hold yourself in a headstand longer than the person next to you, or being able to lithely pivot into a forward bend.  Absolutely, yoga can help you become more flexible; however, the postures are most effectively used as an entry way into how one feels at the very moment you are in that posture. 

In short, the postures help bridge the mind/body connection. Taking the example of a yawn, how do your jaws feel, how does the base of the skull feel, how do the collar bones feel at the moment you “practice” the yawn? By focusing our awareness on the breath and our relationship with the ground, we all have the opportunity to let go of the day’s stresses and much else. 

I like to tell my students that yoga is more about undoing than doing.  It’s about releasing and allowing all the tensions of both the mind and body that we don’t need to hold onto fall away- undoing. And what better way to undo than to have a good voluntary yawn once in a while. 

So treat yourself.




Jolyon studied Public Health at Tulane University and has had extensive experience working in reproductive health programs.  Jolyon has studied yoga in the UK, India, and the US since 1989, and he has enjoyed teaching yoga to participants of Dr. Alice Domar’s Mind/Body Program for Infertility since 2001.  His gentle teaching style is suitable to all participants enrolled. In addition to his 11 + years experience teaching yoga, Jolyon has also worked and studied with the Yoga Bioymedical Trust, in London, an organization dedicated to both the medical research of and teaching of yoga therapy.