The Power of the Yawn to Protect You From Burn Out


The Power of the Yawn to Protect You From Burn Out

Should a yawn still be considered RUDE, or is there something else we can learn?

Once a demonstration of sleepiness, disinterest or just downright bad manners, yawning is now on the leading edge of neuroscientific best practice.

It seems a deliberate and mindful yawn can protect your brain from burn out during highly intensive focused periods.

I have been delving deep into my love of neuroscience recently and was fortunate enough to be sent a webinar from Mark Waldman. Mark is a pioneer in this area. He offers profound insights into the brain, consciousness and the practical application of the latest neuroscientific discoveries. This is no easy feat. 

Mark is clear that of all the effective strategies of communication ‘words’ are quite low on the list. This means that with all the written content we are either creating or consuming as Small Business owners, misinterpretation is rife. 

Why is this? 

Firstly, our brains only hold on to seven or eight pieces of information at any given time. This means our attention is extremely limited, to begin with. Secondly, our brains are driven by past emotional experiences that we are rarely conscious of even though they shape our every thought and response.

The question is, what are we unconscious to when we think we are making sense of something?

What we are really processing is the collation of relevant (and mostly irrelevant) thoughts, feelings and emotions from the past. We then form a projection into the future. In other words, we are rarely ever truly present.

Instead, we are using the past to survive the future.

James Clear alludes to this in his book ‘Atomic Habits’ where he suggests human beings are not ‘responders’ to events but in fact ‘predictors’ of what is about to happen. This makes sense from a survival perspective. Being able to predict risk has meant we are still around as a species.

However, we have all had the experience of another person who has already decided what we are about to say and is leaping into conclusion before we have even started expressing something. Or, experienced someone being in the room but not really present.

It is frustrating and can feel disrespectful when we are on the receiving end. If we are the person stuck in the predicting and unaware of how we are operating, anxiety, depression and burnout can be the result. 

So what does all of this have to do with yawning? 

According to Mark, it is accurate to say that the humble yawn (when done mindfully) is a medical strategy, diagnostic symptom and healing tool because mindfully yawning increases productivity and reduces stress. WHAAAT?

Yep. Apparently yawning positively impacts the networks of our brain through ‘thermoregulation’ or the act of creating a ‘constant internal state’ which is vitally important for our health and vitality.

Interestingly when we are resting our neural activity is extremely high but more evenly spread across the entire brain. This means we have access to far greater resources, including our imagination, creativity, social awareness, empathy and values.

Compare this to when we are intently focusing where only a small portion of our brain (Central Executive Network) is active. Neural activity generates heat, and when it is focused in one place, it becomes harder to regulate.  Over time focusing is a heavy load for such a small area of our brain to carry. Our brain dysregulates, leading to brain fatigue. 

Being consciously able to regulate our brain when we are anxious, stressed or overworked is clearly an important skill to learn.

Instead of half paying attention because we are too busy madly predicting what will happen we can choose differently. Instead, we can mindfully introduce a simple yawn and consciously direct our thoughts. This opens up our mental activity and allows the other important centres of our brain to lighten the load. This is why a break or relaxation or even a nap allows us to generate solutions to our problems. We become less stressed, more accessible to others and frankly easier to be around. I have referred to this idea in a previous article here.

Yawning is not the only strategy to help regulate our brains. 

When used in conjunction with: 

  1. Observing our spontaneous thoughts and feelings without judgement and 
  2. Using an inner ‘value’ to anchor ourselves, we have the ability to regulate in a matter of moments. Then we can move back into focus refreshed and regulated. 

Mark recommends establishing the practice at least every hour with three rounds of a mindful yawn, observing our thoughts and feelings without judgement and finally using an inner value to ground ourselves. This will keep our brain networks fresh and balanced.

The value of a yawn cannot be overestimated.

During periods of intense activity in our businesses such as when producing marketing collateral, proposals, branding information, or any other important information designed to convey our business to others this practice gives us every chance to do so clearly and succinctly because we are relaxed, focused and have clarity of thought.

Forget the rudeness, bring on the yawn.

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