Archive for August, 2014

This is a nice, basic activity that gives participants an opportunity to do the internal work of mindfulness (becoming aware of their present-moment experience) while still getting a chance to externalize their experience and express it in a controlled, physical way that gets them up and moving. This is based on the common four-corner mixer.


  • Designate three separate areas of the space that you’re in (e.g. three corners, or one side of the room, the middle of the room, and the opposite side of the room). One area will be the “Yes Zone,” another will be the “Maybe/In-Between Zone,” and the last will be the “No Zone.”
  • Let participants know that you’re going to be asking them a set of questions. When they hear a question, they should take a moment to mindfully check in with their present moment experience. Then, depending on what they find, they’ll move to the area of the room appropriate to their answer. So if their answer to the question is “yes,” they’ll go to the “Yes Zone.”
  • Example questions and answers:
    • Do you feel restless, like it’s hard to sit or stand still right now?
      • Answer examples: yes (hard)/in between (not hard, not easy)/no (easy)
    • Do you feel tired right now?
      • Answer examples: yes (tired), in between (not super tired, but not wide awake either), no (wide awake)
    • Do you feel hungry right now?
      • Answer examples: yes (hungry), in between (satisfied), no (full)
  • Other example topics:
    • Focused, in between, distracted
    • Hot, comfortable, cold
    • Clear, in between, confused
    • Friendly, in between, unfriendly
    • Relaxed, in between, tense/anxious
    • Happy, in between (neutral), sad
    • Uncomfortable, in between, comfortable
  • It’s nice to close out with some possible topics posed by participants themselves.


Instruction Notes:

  • Since there’s an obvious progression from “Yes” to “Maybe” to “No,” arrange the areas that you designate with the “Maybe Zone” somehow in-between the other two.
  • You may want to create large, simple signs to designate the three different zones. Even if you do, younger participants may need frequent reminders (perhaps for each question) of which zones correspond to which answers.
  • To ensure a good, hearty mindful check-in, create some cue to let participants know when they should begin moving to their answer zone. For instance, you can ask the question, give them 10 seconds or so (however long seems appropriate to you) to internally check in, and then give the cue (like, “go,” or some such).
  • There’s no need for participants to come back together after each question. You can just ask the next question while they’re still in the answer zones from the last question, and they can move straight to their next answer zones.
  • Given the herd mentality of us humans, it’s good to mention (especially to teens) that this is not about moving to the same zone as a friend—rather it’s about reflecting on each person’s individual experience in the moment. Of course this is not going to stop some participants from still moving around with a friend, so just keep an eye out and quietly intervene if you see fit.

Application Notes:

  • The example questions and topics above are ones I’ve used for this activity in the past. Depending on the age of the participants (e.g. younger—more concrete; older—can go more abstract) and context (specific themes you’re covering, e.g. mindfulness of emotions), you can come up with other questions that will fit your needs.
  • You could have a follow-up discussion with the group about this process of checking in. Possible areas of exploration: What was it like to check in? How might it be useful to check in like this at points during a normal day? Was there anything they discovered that they hadn’t really been aware of before the question was asked? And so on…



This teeny little story (that’s super easy to tell) can pack a punch. It’s a tangible example of how shame/self-doubt/self-criticism is not “true” so much as a particular filter on the world, taking into account only certain pieces of information about ourselves and working them into a particular narrative about who we are and what we do. Mindfulness practice can not only help us become more aware of such identity-narratives and the impact that they have on us (and those around use), but it can also help us widen the filter of our perspective to take in more information, moment by moment. As this tale shows, sometimes we just need one new bit of information to turn our whole perspective on its head!


  • The website this story is on is actually a wonderful resource of powerful teaching tales. Indeed, I’ll likely be linking to other stories on it again in the future. Just as I provide “application notes” for using the stories and games on my blog to teach mindfulness, this website provides notes on how to use these stories for certain types of healing.
  • This story is a beautiful compliment to the game I presented last week.
  • You could do a whole range of follow-up activities with this story: discussions that focus on some of the themes I mentioned in the introduction; art projects where participants draw links between themselves and the cracked pot, identifying flaws and how these can be seen as blessings (and then being mindful of how such a re-frame may (or may not) shift one’s feelings around the perceived flaw); and so on…

I had a bit of my old self-criticism rise up within me this past week, so I thought that it might be a good time to share a game (and next week a story) focused on the theme of self-compassion. Compassion and kindness towards others is often presented as a major component of mindfulness training, yet if we can’t be kind towards ourselves our outward-directed compassion will only go so far. And many of us could use a bit of self-compassion—as my wife is fond of saying, if we treated others the way we treat ourselves inside our own head, it would be considered abusive!

So here’s a wonderfully funny game that turns our relationship with failure on its head, from self-criticism to celebration. The instructions below are from Ted DesMaisons’ blog, replicated here with permission from the author.


  • …Each person comes in front of the room one at a time.
  • After “claiming” the stage, that person shares with pride a made-up failure of theirs. Something like, “I put a pair of new blue jeans in with my mother’s clothes and everything turned blue,” is great—not completely inconsequential (like “I forgot to turn the lights off when I left home”) but also not devastating or traumatic (like “I ran over my dog…twice”).
  • Once they’ve shared the ‘failure’, the rest of the group gives them a wild and rousing ovation in celebration.
  • The person on stage should take a grand and vigorous, deep “ta-da!” bow, soaking in the applause to full effect. The game finishes when everyone’s had the chance to celebrate having ‘failed.’

Instruction Notes:

  • …Emphasize that the failures should be made up once the person gets to the stage. You don’t want to initiate a therapy session here.
  • Often times, kids will shrink from the applause and will want to take a quick bow and run off stage. The whole point is to soak it in. What would it be like if we celebrated our failures?
  • Make sure to model what you’re looking for before they start. If they see you delighting in the exercise, they’ll give themselves much more permission to do so.

Application Notes:

  • Make sure to explain why you’re playing this game before you play it or to debrief it afterward: we’re trying to create a new relationship to what we think of as failure. When we fail, it often means we’re pushing ourselves to develop new skills. It means we’re taking risks. And our so-called ‘failures’ can lead us to possibilities we never would have imagined. That’s all worth celebrating.

My last post was about a game to introduce students to concentration practices. Keeping with that theme, this is a lovely Hindu story where the young protagonist’s concentration (on a mantra or prayer, in this case) is so profound that he becomes the North Start itself—staying motionless in the heavens as the stars spin endlessly around. What a lovely metaphor for finding a still point during meditation, even as thoughts and sensations spin on in the periphery.

To get to this story, follow this link and scroll down past the first short story to the title, “The Faith of A Child: The Story of Dhruva.