© 2018 by Smalltown Yoga.

Mindfulness Games for Community Building/Stress release (great resource is the Mindful Games Activity Cards – Susan Kaiser Greenlard with Annaka Harris.  Some of these exercises have also been adapted from Jon Kabbat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course)

  • Some Favorites (though there are many more!)

  • Feeling my Feet

  • Ask students to stand, eyes can be gently closed.  Students are invited to relax and bring awareness to the bottoms of their feet.  This exercise works great combining with traditional yoga poses such as Downward Facing Dog, Tree pose, Tadasana.  Allow students to observe thoughts as they come and go renewing attention to their feet and feeling feet anchored heavily into the ground, creating a feeling of a solid, stable foundation.  Challenge thoughts, destressing or not, to come and go without swaying from this solid foundation.  

    • PURPOSE – This exercise helps students to learn to self-soothe and to feel grounded, confident, and unwaivering in the face of extreme emotions, thoughts, or anxiety.

  • Three Gates

  • Introduce this exercise to a class in order to emphasize respect, sympathy, and kindness within a community.  Remind students that we should ask ourselves the three questions (before we say or do something).

    • Is it true?

    • Is it necessary?

    • Is it kind? 

    • PURPOSE - This is a great exercise for teaching children or even adults to be thoughtful and mindful of their speech and actions with how they affect others.

  • Pass the Cup

  • This is a great activity to do in order to build group cohesion.  It’s fun, even though it can get everyone wet!  Either sitting in a circle, standing in a circle, or standing next to each other in a line, students will begin by taking a small cup and filling it ¾ full (or less if younger children) and passing it to the next person. The object is to work together in order to spill the least amount of water.  

    • PURPOSE – This is a fun “ice-breaker” and getting to know each other and work together exercise.  For an extra challenge for older ages, students should close their eyes after trying them opened.  This exercise promotes concentration, teamwork, and awareness of how one person’s movements (the way someone passes the cup) impacts others (thus, promoting bodily awareness).

  • Full body progressive muscles relaxation 

  • This is a great activity that can be practiced after long periods of activity, after recess, lunch, or after a transition in order to help students refocus and calm themselves or for younger students before a rest period or nap time.   If space is permitting, this exercise generally works best lying down though it can be sitting up also with the eyes gently closed.  Students should be told that there is no right or wrong way to breath, just like there is no right or wrong way to practicing mindfulness.  This is a judgment free practice and students are encouraged to close their eyes so that they are not distracted by others or things in the room. Guiding students through a short progressive relaxation using this or any similar script.

    • “Feel your body lying heavily along the floor (or mat if have yoga mats).  Feel your arms relaxed at your sides and your feet hips with apart and toes splayed outward in a relaxed position.  Bringing awareness into your right foot, squeeze the muscles in your right toes on an inhale and on an exhale release.  (Repeat on left side).  Moving to your right leg, on an inhale squeeze your thigh muscles, calf muscles, and even raise your entire right leg up a couple of inches, on an exhale gently release the leg to the ground, unclenching the muscles and releasing any remaining tension in the right leg.  (Repeat on the left side).  (For young kids, can adapt the language, example; release all of the muscles in your legs so that your legs feel like overcooked spaghetti and if I were to come and lift up a leg, it would flop down like a floppy noodle).  

    • Moving up, take your awareness (attention or thought depending on age) to your right hand. Make a fist with your right hand on an inhale and squeeze tight, tight, and tighter.  On an exhale, release your right fist, open your hand and feel the blood circulate back into your hand (different language for young students). (Repeat on left).  Now bring awarenes into your right arm, squeeze all of the muscles in your right arm and on an inhale with muscles squeezed slowly raise your arm a couple of inches from the floor, and on an exhale, gently release the arm back to the floor.  (Repeat on left).  Moving to your shoulders, on an inhale scrunch your shoulders to your ears, scrunch, scrunch, and on an exhale release the shoulders down, letting the tension in the shoulders fully relax and bringing awareness again back to the heaviness of your shoulders into the floor.   

    • Moving up, bring awareness to your lips, on an inhale squeeze your lips tight, squeeze, squeeze, pursing them together, and on an exhale gently release the lips letting them naturally fall open or stay close, whichever feels most natural.  Moving to your eyes, on an inhale squeeze your eyelids tight almost so you see light or color behind your eyelids because you are squeezing so tight, and on an exhale gently release the eyelids keeping the eyes gently closed.  Moving to your eyebrows and forehead, on an inhale raise your eyebrows and create wrinkles in your forehead as if you have been completely stumped by a question, on an exhale gently release your eyebrows and relax the muscles in your forehead, repeating silently to yourself “I don’t always need to know the answers, it’s okay.”  

    • Feeling the heaviness of the back of your head on the floor and your whole body fully relaxed, while being aware of any thoughts or distractions that come through your mind and embracing them and then just gently letting them go. Continue to feel yourself in this pose of complete relaxation.  Stay here for as long as you would like.”

      • PURPOSE – This progressive muscle relaxation exercise helps students to destress after activity, a long test, or before a resting period.  It helps students to become aware of all parts of their body and to feel first hand the tension followed by the relaxation that can come with mindful breathing and bodily awareness.  This exercise can always be done in an abbreviated form or sitting up by focusing on the upper body, lower body, and/or the facial muscles or shoulders. Preschoolers love this and many fall asleep!

  • Mindful Breathing – In, “I’m breathing in,” out, “I’m breathing out.”

  • Students can either be sitting up or lying down.  If students are lying down and they have their eyes open, it’s sometimes helpful to either give each student an object to balance on their belly so that they can focus on the inbreath making their belly rise and the outbreath allowing it to fall.  This object can vary depending on age, or students can choose to close their eyes especially if sitting up.  Students are instructed to become observers of their breath.  Guiding students, “I breath in through my nose, into my chest, and into my belly as it inflates like a balloon; I breath out through my belly, seeing it or feeling it deflate (as another variation students can put their hand on their belly), moving out through the chest, and then through the mouth.” Alternatively, students can be instructed to repeat silently to themselves, “In, I breath in (take a breath in) and out, I breath out (take a breath out).”  Students in whichever variation should hold this breathing for at least 5 breaths.

    • PURPOSE – If students have difficulty trasnsitioning from one activity to another, just a simple breathing exercise can help to refocus and recenter, improving producting and listening skills.  This is also a great activity to destress before a test and/or after a test or for athletes before a game.

  • Gratitude links

  • This is a great activity especially for younger students.  Each child is given a cut strip of construction paper and markers/decorating materials.  Students can write and/or draw (if preschool age) all of the things that they are grateful for.  Students can make as many strips as time permits or they wish to make.  At the end, students will help to glue the various appreciation strips together to form a chain that can be used to decorate the classrooom. 

    • PURPOSE – This community building activity is a great exercise at the beginning of the school year to create a sense of belonging with each classmate as all participate in building the chain in addition to creating a unique sense of space with students’ own decorations.  This exercise also teaches students about gratitude and teachers should emphasize as something to be grateful for is each other, the respect and support of a community and others.  This exercise would also make a great activity for Thanksgiving.

  • Slow Down! 

  • Demonstrate how to move in slow motion (can either do standing up or seated). Demonstrate how we slowly move an arm, or legs, or hand.  In between movements have students observe how their body feels in stillness vs moving slowly.  

  • This exercise can be done in conjunction with yoga poses in order to practice mindfully and explore various asanas.

    • PURPOSE – This exercise can be done to smooth transitions (walk slowly – play it as a game), or can be done to calm students as we bring them back to slow, steady, thoughtful motion and stillness.  Students gain bodily awareness and can recognize how their body feels different when it is permitted to slow down and explore sensations that arise from this slowed movement.

  • VARIATION – Young children, read Slowly, Slowly (by Eric Carle). With each slowly, slowly, slowly repetition in the book instructe students to silently and slowly raise one arm or tilt the neck.  Have students think about whether moving slowly means being lazy or whether moving slowly is often more thoughtful and mindful.  Is faster always better? 

  • Setting and sending intentions 

  • Have students lie on their backs (if space is permitting) and have their eyes gently closed (or slightly opened and gazing at one focal point so as to avoid distractions). Guide students through a loving-kindness practice:

    • Tell students to silently repeat to themselves: 

      • May I be happy

      • May I find peace

      • May I be safe

      • May I be healthy and strong

    • Now have the students send these intentions to someone they love (pet, sibling, parent, caregiver).  Repeat these four intentions instructing students to silently fill in the blank.

      • May ________ be happy.

      • May _________ find peace.

      • May _________ be safe.

      • May ________ be healthy and strong.

    • Now have the students send these intentions to a friend. (Repeat these four intentions and have the students silently fill in the blank)

    • Now have the students send these intentions to someone that they don’t know, a stranger. (Repeat these four intentions).

    • Lastly, have the students send these four intentions to someone or some part of themselves that they find difficult to deal with.  This is perhaps the hardest part of the exercise, sending positive thoughts to part of ourself or to someone that we find difficult. Acknowledge that you understand this challenge, but that this is perhaps the most important part of the exercise. (Repeat the four intentions as students silently fill in the blank).

    • Have students continue laying with their eyes closed noting any sensations or feelings that may arise as you gently bring students back to the present moment and discuss reactions and emotions that arose during the practice.  

      • PURPOSE – This exercise helps students to develop compassion towards themselves and others.  It positively helps boost classroom morale and respect between students and for teachers. By sending positive intentions to oneself and possibly to part of oneself that the student may find difficult, the student is learning to accept and embrace every part of themselves and others.  This is a step towards non-judgment and this exercise tends to be very soothing and restful. 

  • Telephone or passing the pulse

  • This is a group activity that can be fun especially as an “ice breaker” while also promoting focus and attentiveness.  Students sit in a circle.  To play telephone, the student will whisper something in the first student’s ear and then that student whispers it to the person to their right and so on. The last person in the circle then repeats the secret and sees how close the last message is to the initial message. 

  • For passing the pulse, students sit in a circle and close their eyes.  Students hold hands.  The first person (or teacher) squeezes the person’s hand to their right and so on until the pulse has made it through the circle.  Passing the pulse can be done silently or as a closing exercise to the end of a class or day in which students pass the pulse and then each student says one word describing how they feel before they pass the pulse to the next recipient.  

    • PURPOSE – This is a fun community building exercise in addition to helping to develop listening skills as well as helping students to reflect on their emotions (if used as a closing exercise).  This exercise fosters a sense of belonging amongst students.  

  • Mindfulness Walking

  • Ideally this exercise could be done outside, however this is not always possible.  If it must be done in the room, place masking tape in two parallel lines on the floor.  Students are instructed to stand in line, standing up straight, relaxing knees and softening muscles.  Using a bell or another brief noise to commence the practice, students are instructed to keep their gazes downward looking at the masking tape and concentrating on bringing one foot in front of the other as they slowly walk in one direction on one line and switch to walk in the other direction on the other line. Gaze is steady and there is no talking. Instruct students to bring awareness into each step.  Feel the heel strike the floor, than the ball of the foot, than the toes, then slowly feeling the other foot rise off of the floor, etc.  Continue this for several minutes, then ring the bell and discuss experiences.  

    • PURPOSE – This is a calming and centering exercise.  In addition, mindful walking is an excellent tool for students to learn to help self-soothe in times of frustration, anxiety, or when faced with difficult emotions.  

  • Rice and beans

  • Give each student a paper plate with a mixture of rice and beans on it.  Have students close their eyes and using their sense of touch, separate the rice and beans into separate piles.  When the separation is complete, have the students open their eyes and see how they did.  For older students, you can use a variety of beans (kidney beans, lima beans, etc) and have the students put each bean into a different cup, sorting the beans for more of a challenge.  Have the students reflect on what their experience was like not seeing what they were sorting and relying solely on their touch; were they more attuned to touch than they feel like they normally would be?  Was it difficult?  

  • A similar exercise can be done if the teacher has a variety of musical instruments with hearing.  Students can be instructed to close their eyes and when they hear an instrument they can try to guess what they heard, solely relying on their ability to listen and hear without a visual aid.

    • PURPOSE – These practices are useful in developing awareness of our different senses and in concentrating on using one sense in order to retain data from our environment. These games are also fun and tend to refocus and recenter students.  

  • Embracing life

  • Sitting down in a circle, students will roll a ball back and forth to each other.  When the ball comes back to the student, they mention one thing that is bothering them while they hold the ball, and then as they roll it to someone else they say, “life is good.”

    • PURPOSE – Although this exercise may sound cheesy, it is still very effective in allowing students to acknowledge and embrace difficulties, while not falling into a pattern of all or nothing thinking.  Students learn that they all face challenges, but that one challenge or several challenges doesn’t automatically mean that life is not good. By repeating a positive mantra after acknowledging difficulty, students learn to regain perspective and meaning as to what is important in life and what is not.  

  • Mindful Listening

  • Seated with back straight, students are instructed to sit with their eyes closed in silence.  Gently guide students first through a couple of mindful breaths.  Depending on their age, they are instructed for 15-60 seconds to simply count the number of different noises they hear in the room. At the end of this listening exercise, students are instructed to share the different noises that each heard and to share if they were surprised by a noise, which they never hear when their eyes are open and they are distracted doing something else.  What do we notice in stillness and silence?

    • PURPOSE – This is a great mindfulness activity to allow students to relax and focus on their auditory senses while trying to eliminate other distractions.  This exercise can help in attention and focus in listening.

  • Our bubble

  • This is a great exercise for younger students especially in the beginning of the year when learning about respect and kindness towards others.  Demonstrate to the students how you draw a pretend bubble with your finger around your body.  Introduce this bubble as your space and your boundaries and if anyone comes close to your bubble without telling you it is likely to pop.  This is protective space.  Have students pretend to draw their own bubbles around their bodies and line up with enough space between each student so that each student’s bubble remains intact.

    • PURPOSE – This is a great exercise in reinforcing or introducing personal space and bodily awareness.  It can also be extremely helpful for issues when a class lines up or transitions. Over the course of the year when altercations arise, calmly remind each child about each other’s bubbles and to respect this protective boundary.  

  • Am I being helpful?  Reflection on actions

  • Have students give an example of a complicated situation when it was hard for them to figure out how to act or what to say?  Ask them, what they think would be the best thing to say or do given the difficult/complicated situation?  Students can list and then compare the answers to the three helpful questions in order to determine the consequences of such a statement or action:

    • Is it helpful to me?

    • Is it helpful to others?

    • Is it helpful to my environment?

  • Begin the exercise as a group and then break off into partners, having students share with their partners.  

    • PURPOSE - This exercise is extremely helpful in aiding students to identify their actions, reasons for behaving in such a way, and whether this was a helpful or harmful way to behave.  It can also help students learn to understand the decision making process.  By facilitating students to ask questions before they act, teachers are helping students to become more thoughtful and aware of how their actions affect others and their environment around them. Students learn positive and negative consequences by thinking of others and their surroundings.  This is a nice exercise in order to build community cohesiveness, sense of belonging, and respect for one another especially when there is tension or distress in the classroom.  

  • We might disagree, but we have a lot in common 

  • Students are instructed to think of something that they may disagree on or an altercation that they may have had.  Students are then instructed to find out from each other as quickly as possible and write them down, three things that they have in common.  Partners can then share to the rest of the class.  

    • PURPOSE - This exercise works great with partners, especially with two individuals who tend to have difficulty with each other or two strangers.  This exercise can be repeated over the course of early part of the school year as an “ice breaker” and a “getting to know you exercise.”

  • The power of guided visualization 

  • Have students sitting down and close their eyes.  Instruct them to imagine biting into a lemon slice.  Ask the students to note how their body reacts to the image of biting into the lemon slice; do they feel their mouth tart and taste bitter? Have the students then imagine that they walked into a bakery and smell homemade baked goods.  Does their body feel more relaxed and pleasant with this sweet image and smell?

    • PURPOSE – This exercise helps students to begin to make the strong connection between how the mind affects the body.  How does thinking of tasting something sour create different sensations in our bodies than thinking of smelling and tasting something sweet?  Have students reflect on the power of this connection and learn to acknowledge how the power positive thinking might affect their body’s sensations.

  • What do you see?

  • Have several different inkblot pictures (Rorscharch or others).  Pair up students.  Have the students write down for 5 minutes everything that comes to their mind when they are looking at the inkblot.  At the end of the 5 minutes have the students share their perceptions with their partners, compare and contrast, and describe to one another how they saw what they saw in the inkblot.  Pairs can exchange inkblots and repeat the exercise.  

    • PURPOSE – This exercise helps students to be aware of different perspectives, acknowledge and learns from others’ perspective, and helps students retain a creative, open, mindful way of seeing and thinking.  

  • Imaginary bubble

  • This exercise is especially helpful in helping young students acknowledge a difficult feeling or something that is bothering them and letting it pass by without becoming overly affected by it.  Instruct students to close their eyes and imagine a difficult feeling or something that is bothering them.  Instruct them to imagine putting the thing, feeling, or thought into a bubble and then watching it float away until they can no longer see it.  

    • PURPOSE – This helps students learn to acknowledge, embrace, accept, and then say goodbye to difficult thoughts and feelings.  Students need to learn that things, thoughts, and feelings are not permanent, they come and go and that each student is able to cope and weather each feeling or thought.

  • Mindful Eating

  • Using a small pick up food (raisins work well) ask the students to hold the food out in front of them.  First instruct them to simply look at the food for several seconds.  Ask the students what they observed/saw.  Then ask the students to close their eyes and touch the food for a couple of seconds.  Ask them what they feel.  Ask the students to bring the food close to their nose to smell it for several seconds; what do they smell?  Ask the students to put the food in their mouth without biting down; what do they taste? Ask the student to bite into the food, slowly chewing; what do they taste and what sensations arise?  Instruct the students to swallow the food and then reflect on their experience.  How do students experience mindful eating?  

  • For a variation, teachers can use a mealtime or snacktime and practice mindful eating for several minutes in silence and have students reflect on how their eating experience differed from their normal eating experience.

    • PURPOSE – This exercise is another great way to help students become more mindful of their senses, focused, and attentive to description and sensations. 

  • Expressive and creative writing in multiple settings

  • ​​This often works well with athletes.  After games, athletes are often encouraged to write reflect about their performance in the game and to evaluate things that they did well and things they wish that they could do better.  Athletes even draw stick figure stretches or yoga poses in their journals that they may practice before or after practices and games that they feel have been helpful.  They may write personalized mantras that they can silently or out loud recite to themselves as a way to prepare for a game or unwind.  Olympic athletes such as Michael Phelps and Serena Williams are just a couple that rely on their creative or mindfulness journals.  See the article in the PDF below to see some examples and read more on the benefits of a mindful/expressive journal.  

  • A journal can also be used for students before and after a stressful event; a student performance, a highly stressful test, or even just a normal day.  Asking children to reflect on experiences that they had during the day that they felt went well and experiences or behaviors that they felt they can improve upon is a great way of helping students to become self-aware, self-reflective, and perhaps share or communicate with teachers or parents.

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