Originally created 01/30/98

Breathing influences yawning

He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others. -- Samuel Johnson

So there I was. And you've been there, too.

Sitting in the big meeting, thinking the room sure has gotten warm and that big lunch sure was tasty ... when it happens.

The jaw muscles started to twitch, the nostrils began to flare, the eyes narrowed to slits and you feel your mouth giving birth to a yawn.

eing among friends, I didn't have to hold back.

No, it was just open wide and let the speaker know he had exceeded the time limit.

("How 'bout them molars?")

Well, you know what happened next.

chain reaction of yawns began to bounce back and forth around the room.

One after another succumbed to this strange human response.

And I got to wondering why.

It's a question that's been around for some time.

`Why doth one man's yawning make another yawn?" Robert Burton wrote in his 1621 work Anatomy of Melancholy.

The answer remains elusive almost four centuries later, but we know a little bit more.

In humans, yawning is an automatic physiological response that helps correct an imbalance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.

Carbon dioxide is the body's waste gas, and when too much of it builds up in your blood, your yawning reflex is triggered.

yawn starts with a spasm of the muscles in the throat, forcing you to open your mouth wide.

Once triggered, it's almost impossible to stop, except to force your face into one of its more humorous expressions -- that repressed yawn that never fools classroom lecturers or longwinded supervisors.

But that doesn't explain why a yawn in one person triggers a contagious attack of yawning in others.

For the most part, scientists know yawns don't harm you.

One thing scientists have found is that healthy people yawn.

According to Dr. Perry W. Buffington (writing in that respected medical journal Sky that I once kept from a Delta flight) people who are acutely ill rarely yawn.

And, he adds, psychotics hardly ever yawn.

In addition to seeing someone else do it, a number of circumstances can provoke a yawn.

Most of them involve a period of shallow or slowed breathing, such as when you are very tired or under stress or sitting still and trying to listen intently.

Also, if a room is overheated or the ventilation is poor, you're more likely to yawn.

People often yawn upon leaving a movie theater or a concert, not because the event was boring, but because they have been sitting quietly and breathing shallowly for several hours.

So that's my excuse.

Whether I leave a church service or a long meeting patting back a yawn, it was not because the topic was boring.

It was an indication that I was so enraptured by the message that I forgot to breathe.

Even the dullest speaker is interesting to a point -- that usually being the point of departure.


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