These exercises are designed to get you out of “your thinking mind” and help you pay attention to what’s happening around you.
by Jessica Dillon
15 min read
In this crazy world choc-full of distraction and worries, it’s all too easy to lose focus and forget what’s truly important to you. We so often get lost in plans for the future, in hopes and tasks you still need to fulfill for work, or things you need to buy for your home. And while these elements are no doubt important, sometimes you just need to stop and notice the moment you’re inhabiting.
But doing that is hard when you’re so used to paying attention either to the future or the past. This is why we’ve put together this easy and fun guide to some of the best mindfulness exercises that you can do to ground yourself in the present. The best part is, you can do them together with friends, family or any other form of group (such as your work colleagues!).
These exercises are designed to get you out of “your thinking mind” as they say, and help you pay attention to what’s happening to and around you right now.
Ready? Let’s get to it!
This is an excellent and surprisingly fun exercise that can be practiced both individually and in a group (to be honest, it’s way more fun in a group!). So what you want to do is sit together with your group, ideally in an open space like a park or yard, and start noting what’s happening around you.
Maybe there is a bird singing in the tree, or maybe someone zooms past in their car. Maybe you can smell the freshly bloomed magnolias or perhaps a child is crying in the distance, after losing a toy. Pay attention to these details because they define your present, after all.
You can either take turns narrating what’s happening or chime in randomly, in no particular order. Maybe you notice the smell of the flowers, but someone else points out the birds singing. Having others point out things helps us become aware of aspects that we wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. And besides, once you get into the habit of doing this exercise regularly with your group, it will come more easily to you to do it when you are on your own also. You know, it’ll make you pay more attention to the world around you.
This exercise can also be done indoors, but when you’re in a controlled and closed environment and everyone’s sitting down doing this exercise, the chances that other things are going on are fairly small. So an outside scenario might be best.
Well, it goes by many names and it’s an exercise used heavily in beginner acting classes as well, because it forces others to pay attention to you and vice versa. For One Beat Track, what you want to do is stand in a circle with your group. Ask one of the members to start by making a certain noise. It can be snapping his fingers or sighing or clapping his hands. Anything as long as it’s a relatively easy noise that others can then copy.
Because that’s exactly what they’ll be doing. Once the first person has made their sound, determine in which direction the circle moves and have the next person repeat that sound and then add one of their own. For example, if the first person smacked his thigh, the next person will also smack their own thigh and then maybe give a short laugh. Now, the third person has to smack their thigh, laugh and then add a sound of their own, say, click their heels.
The great thing about this exercise is that it can go on and on and doesn’t have to stop once you’ve reached the end of the circle. In fact, that’s when things start to get interesting. Because remembering one sound per person is fairly easy to do, especially when it’s a relatively small group. But once everyone gets to do multiple sounds, it becomes more difficult because you’ll notice a tendency to only remember either the first noise they made or the most recent.
This exercise is a great way to improve your listening skills and become more aware of the people around you.
This mindfulness exercise, once again, is about listening. You’d be surprised at how little attention we pay to the world around us, to what people say or do. And this exercise is interesting because it asks you to be forever on your toes. See, when it’s your turn to do an exercise, of course you will pay attention, but an exercise where every turn may be your turn will prove rather challenging.
So how ‘The Name Game’ works is:
You all stand in a circle and one person shouts out another person’s name. To ease everybody into it, have them point at the person they’re calling in the beginning. As the game progresses, you can either have them abandon the pointing or, to make it more tricky, have them call out the name of one member of the group, yet point at another. This will really test their attention.
Once your name has been called, you need to quickly call out the name of another person, though not the one who called you (otherwise you’d just be going back and forth). It’s a very fast-paced game that doesn’t allow you to be ‘miles away’, as we too often are.
If you are caught out and fail to answer in good time, you can either be eliminated from the circle completely or receive an added name. For example, if before you were simply Jack, you will now be ‘Jack Screwdriver’ or ‘Mary Chair’ or something like that. If you mess up twice, add a number. Jack Screwdriver Thirty. Something like that. This forces the other players to pay even more attention, so that when they simply call out ‘Jack’ they will receive a punishment name of their own.
For some, creativity is a natural gift. For others, however, it can prove quite challenging. That’s what makes this game so popular – it works both your mindfulness and your creativity. Too often, we think in words and pre-defined concepts. And this is harmful for our presence of mind because these ideas are so well-ingrained in our minds that we rarely (if ever) actually stop to consider them.
Say, for example, you’re going to catch the bus. And you see it coming and think to yourself ‘great, I won’t be late for work’, but how often do you actually stop to study the bus? How often do you take a good, real look at the colors of the bus or look to see if there are any little dents or graffiti or perhaps a bit of dirt on the windshield?
That’s exactly what this exercise sets out to correct. It’s best to do this one in a space where there are fairly many things to see, like outside (or at least looking through a window). With a partner, go to that window (or look around, depending on the setting) and begin describing what you see.
Don’t say things like ‘A bus passed by’, it’s generic and non-descriptive. Try something like ‘A bus is pulling up, its front is light green. There is a female driver wearing a cap and an old lady with worn-out shoes getting on. A young man in an oversized hoodie is getting off, past the old lady, listening to music on his earplugs. The music is loud and angry, much like the boy himself.’
It doesn’t have to be so story-like, but try to paint as vivid a picture as possible for your partner. Ideally, have them facing the opposite way to underline the fact that they can not see this thing and need you to describe it for them. Spend 3-5 minutes describing what you see, then stop and let your partner describe the things they see in the opposite direction.
This is a surprisingly difficult game with a surprisingly easy concept. Once again, you’re in a circle and what you’re wanting to do is, going clockwise around the circle, have everyone tell you of three good things that happened to them this week. Doesn’t sound complicated, does it?
Well, it is.
That’s because there are a lot of factors that immediately come into play in our minds, thoughts like:
• What will everyone think of me if I say this?
• Is this really good?
• What if they think I’m lame for counting this as a good thing?
• What if someone has better good things than me?
This exercise also works to make you more outgoing and strengthen the bonds between a given group. Because once you’ve shared with these people whatever made you happy this week, you’ll feel a little closer to them. So try not to let the above thoughts stop you and try to identify the things that were good to you.
The three good things can be as ‘small’ or as ‘important’ (using quotes because such terms are highly subjective) as you like. For example, a good thing can be that you found that celery that you really like at the market this morning. Or it can be that you had a doctor’s appointment that turned out to be alright.
Once again borrowing from theater here, but it’s really a great exercise. And considering that actors need to be present in the moment and aware of themselves on stage, I’d say it’s a good idea to borrow some ideas off of them.
The Mirror Exercise is as easy as pie and as effective (well, if your goal is to put on pounds, ‘cause that’s what pie will generally do!). Anyway, the way the Mirror Exercise works is that you stand everyone in your group in pairs and have them standing face to face to each other. The exercise can either be done by each pair individually (with the others looking at them from the sidelines) or simultaneously.
There’s no risk of one pair distracting another, since it’s not a spoken exercise, and all you need to have everyone doing it at the same time is plenty of room.
Standing face to face, have one person be the Mirror and the other the Person. The real Person needs to make gestures, pull faces, move around a little, you know, whatever they would normally do in front of the mirror. The Mirror, obviously, needs to mirror these gestures. Often, when doing this exercise, people will tend to do outrageous movements, like wave their arms around. You know, big gestures to see if the Mirror manages to follow them in a timely manner.
But ask the participants to stick to what they’d normally do in front of the mirror, because that’s where the game gets truly interesting. By making them focus on small things, you are helping them do so in real life as well. And by watching someone mimic you as you squint or look up your own nose or whatever, you’ll pay more attention to what you see in the real mirror (not to mention have a great laugh!).
Mindfulness exercises are a great way to build a team and get people to know one another better. It’s also a good and interesting way to spend a lazy afternoon with family or friends, because it allows you all to both have fun and learn something useful.
Fun Mindfulness exercises for groups
22 Mindfulness Exercises, Techniques & Activities For Adults (+ PDF’s)
Free Mindfulness Worksheets