I was unaware of the value of yawning until now! This article is written by Dr. Andrew Newberg, a physician/researcher at Penn who I have admired after reading about his studies on the brain during meditation (he’s also featured in the movie “What the bleep do we know.”)
If you read the article, you’ll see how he talks about how both yawning and yogic breathing stimulate the precuneus in the parietal lobe. The precuneus apparently plays “a central role in consciousness, self-reflection, and memory retrieval,” which helps explain why yoga/meditation can help increase self-awareness. Yawning also improves alertness: “It quickly brings you into a heightened state of cognitive awareness… it rids the brain of sleepiness, thus helping you stay focused on important concepts and ideas.”
And yawning has a social function as well. Dr. Newberg explains how “Yawning evokes a unique neural activity in the areas of the brain that are directly involved in generating social awareness and creating feelings of empathy.” Yawning is only “neurologically contagious” among humans, great apes, macaque monkeys, and chimpanzees!