I’ve not met anyone who hasn’t learned to stifle their yawns.
You know what it’s like – you feel a yawn coming on, and if you’re in company you simply will not let your mouth open wide and do a proper, tonsil-revealing, noisy yawn. Somehow it’s not polite to open your mouth in front of another – except perhaps your nearest and dearest.
Some will remember a parent or teacher saying “put your hand over your mouth when you yawn”, or you will have been on the end of “am I boring you?” or “am I keeping you up?” and other shaming phrases.
So we learn to fiercely contract the masseters and the temporalis – the powerful jaw muscles – as an instinctive yawn arises, and make a strange, contorted awkward face as we attempt to stop the yawn in its tracks. Or if we’re less conditioned we allow the yawn to happen and cover it up with a hand – at least that way the yawn takes place, even if it’s disguised as if it’s somehow impolite or rude or embarrassing.
Next time you are hanging out with a dog or a cat watch them yawn; it’s accompanied by an almighty, whole-body stretch. And it looks so pleasurable! It’s supposed to be!
A yawn is a mini nervous system re-boot; an attempt to re-settle the nervous system and bring on a period of relaxation. It’s an attempt to let go; to quieten the tendency to brace (contract) jaw muscles against un-processed emotional energy.
Jaw muscles are primitive emotional energy and traumatic energy ‘managers’. The easiest way to realise this is to feel what happens when you’re feeling emotional; your jaw muscles will tighten, your cheeks will ache if you’re trying not to cry or before you eventually give way to the crying itself. This muscle tension helps you not be overwhelmed by the feeling or emotion. Jaw muscles are hard-wired to do this – in everyone.
The reason why so many people clench and grind their teeth at night (and some during the day) is to manage emotion – anxiety – during the rapid eye movement part of sleep. It’s got little or nothing to do with ‘bite disorders’ or temporo-mandibular joint disorders (TMJ) – on the contrary, the jaw joints will degenerate asymmetrically if you clench or grind your teeth. The anxiety comes first, drives the jaw tension, which causes bite/jaw and teeth problems. Unsurprisingly many people chew their expensive bite guards to pieces.
So if you brace against your yawns, you are giving your own nervous system a very clear message that you will not allow relaxation, and you will not allow sufficient vulnerability to feel the full effect of an emotion your brain is trying to show you, and you will learn to ignore your own instinctive attempt to communicate with yourself just how tired you are; you will learn to ignore your fatigue.
Yawns happen for good, biological, healthy reasons. Learn to feel them coming on and let them happen – allow the jaw to open really wide and feel the pleasure of it!