yawn! a lesson in empathy at yoga teacher training


Teacher training is almost over. I can feel my mind and body fatiguing as each day passes. Sitting in posture mechanics, I accidentally let a yawn slip and I hoped no one had seen me. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my fellow trainees let out a giant yawn. Then a moment later another person, then another, and another! In a quick loop the one yawn I let free made its way back to me… karma. I began to wonder, why are yawns so contagious? Why do we even yawn in the first place.

This is what I came up with.

Your brain works best at a certain temperature. Sleep deprivation and exhaustion have been found to increase brain temperature. Yawning increases heart rate, blood flow, and the use of muscles in your face which all facilitate in cooling down the brain. Deeply inhaling also draws in cool oxygen that lowers the blood temperature brought to the brain. Of course being in teacher training, how can I relate this to yoga?

In the yoga community, there are people who consider themselves healers. One type of healing in particular is called heart centered energy healing. This type of healing focuses on empathy energy manifested in the electromagnetic field. The heart’s electrical field is sixty times greater in amplitude than the brain’s field. So what does this have to do with yawning?

A yawn may start as an involuntary physiological reaction, cooling the brain, but the most popular reason yawns are contagious is due to our social structure and behavior; yawning shows empathy towards the original yawner. Since empathy is centralized in the heart, yawning has become a matter of not only the brain but also the heart.


The energy we project affects those around us. Not only should we keep in mind that we might share a yawn with someone one day, but we may share other forms of energy as well. We may share a friendly smile or even pass on a bit of negativity. In any case, energy is all around us. Be mindful of the energy you project or a “yawn” might come back in your direction.

Jocelyn Lindner


Jocelyn graduated with a B.S. from the University of Hawai’i with a degree in Natural Resource and Environmental Management specialization in Wildlife Management. She have previous experience working as a volunteer in the elephant section of the Honolulu Zoo, as an intern for the Marine Mammal Research Program and the Hawai’i Institute for Marine Biology in their shark lab. Jocelyn also has a background in theatre, dance, gymnastics, and cheerleading. Her previous yoga experiences have been based in Vinyasa and Ashtanga but she loves what she has learned about hot yoga in the evolation Teacher Training Program.