Mindfulness exercises can be a wonderful way to connect with your fellow human beings as well as become more grounded in the present moment.
by Jessica Dillon
10 min read
Mindfulness exercises can be a wonderful way to connect with your fellow human beings as well as become more grounded in the present moment. Mindfulness games and activities work well when done on your own, of course, but they can have a little extra something when done in a group setting.
Who are the following exercises for?
In general, the people who make the most use out of these are groups that work together, who also use such exercises to strengthen their bonds with the rest of their work team. These also come in handy in specially designed classes to help you become more aware, but really, anyone can do this. Just grab a couple members of your family or even a few friends and let’s get to it.
We’ll be honest with you, the Safari exercise was originally designed for children, but the truth is, adults can also benefit from it quite a lot, which is why we’re including it in our list. The Safari exercise needs to be done outside. This can be somewhere along a mountain trek, in the woods or the park, or even in your backyard (although this might limit your options a little).
Ask the group to imagine they are going on a safari and to notice as many plants, animals, insects and birds as they can. It might sound childish at first, but that’s exactly why children have a much easier time doing this exercise, whereas adults will tend to shy away from it and write it off as silly or childish. That’s the point we’re after.
Children are overall far more aware of the world around them than we adults are, so we’re looking to return exactly to that childhood state of wonder.
This is another exercise we borrow from children. Once again, we do so because it’s just such a useful little activity. This is a great exercise to try with people who are under a lot of stress, either physical or mental, and people who are having trouble managing their emotions (also works really well on teens). It is a bit childish, yes, but it’s a great way to ease people into a state of stillness. You simply take a jar (ideally a mason jar) and fill it about three quarters through with water. Then you add glitter, confetti or anything shiny that will float around. And then you close the jar and shake it around. Point out to your group that this is how their mind is looking right about now, because of all the emotions and thoughts swirling around.
Next, allow the jar to sit still for a few seconds and watch as the glitter or the confetti all fall still – this is what happens when you sit still and become more mindful of your body and actions. It allows the cluster of thoughts to calm down and helps you relax.
An awesome and creative alternative can be to give each participant their own jar and allow them to fill it with what they wish (within limits, of course). Then, encourage them to shake it up, really cause up a stir. While this seems childish, it allows them to get rid of pent up stress and really puts them in a good mood for the other mindfulness exercises that are to come.
Speaking of exercises for dealing with stress or negative emotions…
There are variants of this exercise being practiced all over the world, in all sorts of settings. Because it’s just so useful. As the name suggests, all you have to do is name a good thing. Seems simple, but it’s in fact a great way to combat negative emotions.
Have your group stand around in a circle and choose an order in which you’ll be going: clockwise or counter-clockwise. Then ask the first member of the circle to name one thing that is really good at the moment. It can be small, like a really delicious ice-cream he had last weekend, or it can be huge, like getting engaged. It doesn’t really matter, good is good. And you should emphasize this, because no doubt there will be some members of your circle who will feel the need to compare their achievements to those of the others. So make sure they aren’t thinking in terms of “oh, this isn’t as good as John’s good” but rather “there are good things in my life”.
You can play around with this exercise, depending on the mood of the group. You can have them name more than one good thing (a good number is three), or you can have them name a bad thing and then a good thing. This might seem counter-productive but it’s in fact really useful, because voicing what is wrong is often a catalyst for recovery, so encourage your group to let out their anger or frustration and tell everyone what’s up. And then, gently help them shift their attention to a good thing, to show that not all is bad.
Listening is something we do literally all the time, and yet only pay attention to around 20% of the things we hear. How little is that?
This exercise will not only encourage your group to listen more, but will also help bring an awareness to their thoughts and feelings in the present moment.
Break up your group into pairs. It’s important to section them off into twos because bigger groups tend to encourage distraction and make the mind wander. If there’s just you listening to someone talking, you’ll feel more responsible about paying attention. So have people talk in pairs. You can choose the topic they talk about, or let them decide that among themselves. Ideally, the topic should be a universal one so that it encourages them to relate to one another and also ensures that all members of the group have something to say on the subject.
Some good topic ideas include:
• What are some of your fears?
• What are some of your biggest hopes?
• Can you tell me one thing you like about yourself and one you dislike?
• What brings you joy?
General things, and ideally not ones that could cause conflict, like religion or political views.
Have both members of each pair answer the question and then sit them down and ask them some questions of your own:
• Did your mind wander while the other person was speaking? (Encourage them to be honest, even though many will be tempted to lie out of politeness)
• What did you think about?
• Did you manage to bring yourself back? If so, how did you do that?
• How did you feel after you spoke?
• How did you feel while and after you listened?
• And how do you feel right now?
• Is there anything you wish you could change about the interaction?
This is an incredible exercise, I’d say. Not only because it gets people to pay attention and be in the moment, but also because it encourages them to share a piece of themselves. As we all know, music sharing is something that can often get really personal. Hence the romanticism of mix-tapes in the past.
All you need for this exercise is access to the Internet. So go on YouTube or Spotify or your music listening app of choice and have each member of the group play everyone their favorite song. You don’t have to listen to the full song, just a couple minutes of it. And rather than having the others pay attention to the lyrics, ask them to just listen and focus on the music.
Ask them to focus on the following aspects, while they listen:
• What instruments can you hear? • Try and distinguish between them, rather than bunching them all up as ‘music’.
• How does the song make you feel? What feelings does it bring up for you?
• What’s the beat like? Is the tempo fast or slow?
• Where does the music go, physically? Some songs are better felt in the heart, others immediately have you moving your hips, so every song will be a little different (as will every participant!).
• Did the music bring up any thoughts or did your mind wander to something in particular? What was it and why do you think that happened?
Have everyone answer these questions after you’ve finished listening to the song and encourage a mindful and polite discussion (you don’t want the person who chose the song to feel bad or judged.
This exercise will ground your group into the present moment as well as give their bodies a bit of a stretch, which is always nice. There are many excellent balancing postures, but our favorite for this exercise is The Tree Pose.
Have all the members of the group stand at a reasonable distance from one another (so that if one falls or loses balance, it won’t impact the others). However, have them looking at one another as much as possible, so that they can experience the exercise together. Having them look at each other is also a good way to help them cope with distractions (they’ll be tempted to smile at each other or laugh, which will in turn make them lose balance).
Ask them to slowly shift their weight to one foot and when they feel ready, ask them to slowly bring up their other foot and catch the knee in front of them. Gently guide the foot to either the calf or the thigh (not the knee, though, as that can cause injury) of the standing leg and then find stillness.
They can keep their hands out to their sides for balance or even bring them up over their heads. Balancing practices are excellent for grounding you in the moment because you need to pay attention to not fall.
You can also ask them to pay attention to the muscles in their standing leg, their hips, back and arms and note how those are feeling.
This is an exercise we’re borrowing from the acting/improv community. A great mindfulness exercise is one where you have to tell stories together. This exercise will make people pay attention to what’s going on around them and to what people are saying because otherwise, they’re out of the game, they’ve ruined the story.
The way this works is that someone (you, ideally) stands in front of a group of people. This should be done with 3-5 people, but not more. Have these people stand side by side and have one of them begin telling a story. By snapping your fingers in front of another person, the one speaking has to shut up and the person you snapped at must pick up the story and continue telling it.
The trick is the story has to flow more or less smoothly and not as if five different people are telling it. This forces the rest of the group to focus when one member is speaking and take note of details and character types, so that they can continue the story when the time comes.
Call them out for mistakes. For example, if the storyteller says that the main character closed the door when a previous storyteller had established that the door was already closed, draw attention to it.
It’s a great exercise both for mindfulness and creativity, not to mention everyone gets a good laugh!
There are countless exercises you can practice with your group to improve mindfulness. We recommend easing them into it and then moving on to more complex mindfulness and emotional exercises as sessions progress.
25 Fun Mindfulness Activities for Children and Teens
Fun Mindfulness Exercises For Groups
3 Mindful Ways to Transform Negative Thoughts