Discover the mindfulness exercises to do in groups in your class, at work, and at home.
by Jessica Dillon
5 min read
We’ve been talking quite a bit about various mindfulness exercises that you can try out either at home, on a walk or at work to help you become more grounded and more aware of the present moment.
Yet one aspect we haven’t tackled much is what activities you can do as a group to become more mindful.
Now, of course, some of the activities you can do as an individual can also be adjusted to fit a group of people, but we thought it would be fun to provide you with some specially designed exercises that you can play around with when you are with other people.
Group mindfulness exercises can be particularly useful when performed at work, or in an academic group. Such practices not only strengthen the bond between people, but also help break the tension that is present in many new groups.
In today’s digital world, it’s easy to separate yourself from people, even if you work alongside them every day.
Dividing your time between your work tasks, chatting with your family and all the other mindless distractions that surround us, it’s easy to become detached both from the people around you and from the present moment. Which is how we came to be writing up this article.
Tip: These exercises can also be applied in a special mindfulness or meditation class or even performed with family members or a group of friends!
Before we move on to the actual exercises, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
• Give yourselves time. Even if some people in the group may be accustomed with grounding practices already, others might not and so, they might need time to get used to them. If you have beginners in your group, try to keep your exercises short and exciting to a certain extent so as to pique their curiosity.
• Don’t mind the space surrounding you too much. Don’t base your exercises on the room or space you’ll be performing them in, but rather try to focus on what’s inside.
• Take time to know one another before you start these exercises. Actually, you can count that as the first exercise on the list – ask each participant to share a little bit about themselves, their background, what brought them here, etc.
As psychologists spent more and more time exploring various ways to help groups connect through mindfulness therapy, they came up with the raisin experiment. Now, the raisin experiment doesn’t need to be performed with a raisin.
They were chosen simply because they’re such a small and familiar object that we no longer even notice them.
But you can easily do this exercise with a chair, a notebook, lamp, leaf, whatever you’ve got handy as long as it’s something the group comes into contact with on a regular basis.
Give all participants an example of that object and ask them to take time to actually notice it. Tell them to pretend they’ve never seen this object in their life. This exercise tends to catch people off guard because it sounds a little bit silly to pretend you’ve never seen something so common before.
This is why some of them might try to treat it as a joke or won’t actually pay attention to the object.
So you need to encourage them. Ask them to watch certain aspects like:
• The shape of the object;
• How the object feels in their palm and how their skin feels when coming into contact with it;
• The smell of the object, if there is one;
• The texture;
• Ultimately, the taste, if it’s an edible object.
This simple yet efficient exercise will help break the ice, especially if the members of the group don’t know each other and will ensure that they are paying attention to the present moment.
A lot of experts recommend leading your group through a body scan in order to bring awareness and make them feel more at ease. The traditional Body Scan needs to be guided by a teacher or facilitator.
Lying on their backs, the members of the group are encouraged to find a place of calm and stillness and be in a position that is comfortable to them. Once the group has settled, they are encouraged to bring awareness to how each individual part of the body is feeling, starting with their toes and working their way up gradually all the way to the scalp.
Once the exercise has ended, the participants will come back to the present moment with a much firmer grip both on who they are, how they’re feeling at that time and they will pay more attention to whatever happens next. Which is why we like to follow this exercise with…
Divide the group into pairs. If working with an uneven number of participants, pair up with the last member yourself. This is a very visual exercise, and one that serves to shift their attention from their own appearance and body (the previous exercise) to that of the people around them.
So, say you have a pair consisting of Jack and Sally. You will ask them to look at each other, gently suggesting certain aspects they might pay attention to, such as the expression on that person’s face, any distinctive marks and even what the person is making you feel at that moment (are they making you feel stressed? Comfortable? Sad? Worried?).
Be careful though not to pinpoint any particular aspect of the person. Don’t say stuff like “what does Jack’s nose look like?” because it will distract Sally from the rest of Jack’s face and that’s not the point of the exercise.
Allow them 2 or 3 minutes to become comfortable with each other, to really study their partner, and then ask them to turn their backs on each other. Now, with their backs turned, ask each to change something about their appearance.
Something small, like unbuttoning their shirt with one button or moving a bracelet from the left arm to the right. This is a great way to bring awareness, to encourage participants to pay attention to detail and to have fun.
Once they both have changed something about their appearance, encourage Jack and Sally to turn around and see if they can spot the difference in the other person. By repeating this short exercise at every session, Jack and Sally will know what you will ask of them and they will pay more attention to the details.
This is a fun exercise to single out, meaning that instead of having everyone paired up and performing it at the same time, it might be fun to have the pairs come up individually and perform it. This will encourage the other participants, the ones watching from the sidelines to focus on the details of Jack and Sally’s appearance as well.
This exercise encourages active listening. Did you know that when having a conversation with someone, we’re only paying attention to about 25% of it? This listening exercise will force participants to be in the present moment and actually listen to what the other person is saying. It will also encourage them to practice this listening in other areas of their life as well.
Once again, you will want to pair people up in twos and, if the space allows it, have the pairs standing at a reasonable distance from one another, so that each pair can have a private conversation without overlapping with someone else talking.
Have Sally begin telling a story to Jack, it can be invented or real. Ask Sally to focus on the specifics, to provide details about the characters or the setting or how the event she’s describing made her feel. Ask Jack to listen. Then, at a random point during the story, wander up to them, stop Sally from speaking and ask Jack to tell the story back to you. Of course, encourage Sally to stop him if he gets something wrong or point out anything he missed once he’s done speaking.
Once Jack has finished telling you Sally’s story, reverse the roles, and have Jack tell her a story instead, while you move on to the next pair.
It might seem counter-productive to have all the pairs talking at the same time, but this is actually one exercise where you want them to work at the same time and possibly overlap. You see, if Jack and Sally were performing this exercise alone, then the room would be silent and Jack would be forced to listen because everyone else was as well.
If there are other people speaking and other things happening in the room while Sally tells her story, you create a more authentic feel and you force Jack to actively pay attention and ignore the distractions.
One of the factors that can determine us to become detached and to drift away from the present moment and even avoid it is if we’re in a bad place emotionally. Going through a rough time or even a mild annoyance encourages us to drift and focus on either something that happened in the past or something we hope will happen in the present. In other words, bad experiences inhibit mindfulness. Which is what makes this exercise particularly useful.
Give everyone in the group a notebook or a piece of paper (it’s recommended that participants don’t use their phones to write as that encourages distraction). Ask your group to each write down an event that they found upsetting. It can be something small, like being short-changed at the supermarket last week or it can be something significant, like a trauma.
Once everyone is done writing, encourage them to read what they’ve written down out loud and talk about how that experience made them feel. Encourage the listeners to offer encouragement and support (sometimes, you don’t even need to encourage them, they do it naturally).
Obviously, not everyone will be as open to reading their notes, but seeing others open up and receive comfort and support will usually shift even the more reluctant members of the group.
This is a fabulous exercise for mindfulness and being in the present moment because it requires you to pay attention and focus on the surrounding people. It’s easy to drift back to our own thoughts in group settings, especially when we’re not the ones talking or performing an exercise.
‘I love you because…’ encourages you to stop that and take this chance to look around at those around you, to pay attention. And once the group has done it once, they’ll know to be more aware for when the next time comes.
‘I love you because…’ is a remarkably easy exercise. Have your group stand in a circle and ask one of them to step in the middle. Once someone has stepped them, ask the others to finish that sentence:
I love you because….of your love for flowers. Or I love you because you always say such kind things. Or I love you because you always know the best jokes.
It can be sentimental or it can be jokey and fun, but it has to be true to the person in the middle of the circle. Of course, as the exercise progresses, the person in the middle turns to the next member of the circle until they reach the end. Then the next one steps up and so on.
This exercise really makes people notice just how aware they are of their surroundings. If you can’t think of a single reason why you love the person in the circle, then maybe it’s a sign you should try to be more mindful next time.
Of course, the exercises you practice will need to be adapted to the specific needs and desires of the group, but variations of the above exercises are successfully practiced all over the world and are tremendously useful for cementing the bonds between people.
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