Conversation Topics: Yawning
Admit it: you're a yawner and there is nothing dainty about it. It's not so bad when you're alone, but there you are in a meeting where everybody is watching everybody, when suddenly, on its own (well, probably following subconscious orders from your brain), your mouth flies open and you slowly draw in through your mouth (not your nose, because it closes down for the yawn) a big, lung-filling breath. The icing on the cake is when you also stretch your arms and shoulders and maybe your legs all the way down to your toes, too. Oh, boy, it's a yawn, your body says, and just about every muscle you've got wants to jump in.

There's no class distinction in yawning. I yawn, you yawn, and the Queen of England yawns (although I desperately wanted to give you a link to such a picture, I couldn't find one). The more refined social set tries to hide their yawns with clenched teeth and a covering hand (which perhaps explains why I couldn't find a photo of Her Highness yawning); those at the other end of the social spectrum are more prone to add a soundtrack reminiscent of an all out, Tarzan-like call of the wild.

We yawn when we wake up, when we get tired, when we get bored, and when we see others yawn. And we're not alone, either. Other animals yawn, too. But why do we yawn? Is it to get more air? Is it to stretch our mouths, lungs and diaphragm? Is it to communicate with others? Or are we just trying to equalize the air pressure in our ears? No one really knows. A lot of research has been done -- you can surf the web and get a taste of it, but no one has been able to pin it down.

Yawning is involuntary (if you don't believe me, try making yourself yawn right now); when you go through the same actions voluntarily it just isn't the same as when the muscles are in charge. As a result, many believe that yawning is rooted in some primitive behavior that has been passed down to us through the ages. That might explain why yawning is contagious. Still, no one knows for sure what good, if any, it did us then or now.

One problem with writing about yawning, however, is the power of suggestion. I really don't think this article is all that dull or that I'm all that tired, but just thinking about yawning has made me yawn a number of times since I started.

Oh, well. They haven't found that yawning is harmful, either, so if you want to watch someone else yawn, pass this article on. In the meantime, I feel another one coming.

Updated September 30, 2003 - go to our home or life advice page