Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

This last game in the unit on mindfulness and stress (see Part I and Part II) is a fun way to cap off the topic while also giving students a chance to consolidate some of what they have learned.  This is more of a traditional improv game, where a few participants have the chance to perform in front of the rest of the group.

Instructions:

  • Set up two chairs in front of the group.
  • Two volunteers come up. One will be the therapist, and the other will be the client.
  • The therapist can sit down in the one chair while the client can walk “off-stage,” so that he/she can walk into the therapist’s “office” at the start of the scene.
  • The client will come in concerned about all the stress in her/his life, while (for the sake of this game) the therapist will give them some advice about dealing with it.
  • The one catch is that everything shared by both the client and the therapist must be sung (in whatever ways the performers feel like doing. Rapping works too).
  • Let this round go for a minute or two (gauging how the participants are doing and how it’s being received by the “audience”).
  • Then you can have more rounds with different volunteers, as you see fit.

Instruction Notes:

  • I like to play one (or both) of the roles in the first round (or two), to model ways of performing for other participants. I also make a point of bringing a lot of energy and zaniness to my performances, to try to break through any potential awkwardness as participants warm up to their roles.  Depending on your own comfort level, you need not do this.
  • If you took notes (e.g. on a whiteboard or easel) of ways of dealing with stress that came up in previous activities, you can have these out for participants to draw from in their therapist roles. You can also brainstorm these before the activity.

Application Notes:

  • Have the group recap advice given by the “therapists.” Then use that advice as the basis of a closing discussion on different ways of dealing with stress.
  • Whether or not you use this activity to close out a unit on working with stress, at the end of any such unit it might be helpful for participants to write down ONE technique that they intend to put into practice. That way they have a clear and concrete foothold in the material, since having too many techniques floating around in one’s head can be overwhelming.
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The second stage in the unit on mindfulness and stress is an amazingly adaptable activity that I refer to as “Body Sculpting.”  I’ve used this handy game as a way of experientially tackling a wide range of topics, and I’ll give some ideas for doing so in the Application Notes below.

Instructions:

  • Participants get into groups of two.
  • They select one person to be “Person A” and the other to be “Person B”, with the note that both people will do the same thing at different times.
  • Let everyone know that Person A is the sculptor and Person B is the sculpture.
    • Person A’s job is to gently (and appropriately) move Person B’s body into a position that conveys what Person A is trying to represent (instructions on that later).
    • Person B’s job is to be as receptive as possible to Person A’s guidance and to then hold whatever positions Person A leaves them in (within reason).
  • Instruct all the sculptors that they are going to sculpt their partners into a statue that exhibits STRESS.
  • Let the first round of sculpting begin, lasting for about a minute or so.
  • When the sculpting is done, I like to have all the sculptures freeze in place while the sculptors crouch down, allowing a good view of our “Stressed Out Sculpture Garden.” Encourage the sculptors to briefly look around the room and check out other sculptures.  You can even have sculptors share about what they were going for with their sculptures and why.
  • Next, have the sculptors “de-stress” the sculptures by shifting their partners from a stressed position to a relaxed position.
  • Repeat the previous steps, with Person B now doing the sculpting (and de-stressing) and Person A being the sculpture.
  • Possible add-on:
    • Have everyone in the room assume a position that shows how stress manifests in their own
    • Everyone holds that position while you guide them to mindfully explore how it feels (physically, emotionally, and mentally).
    • Then have everyone de-stress themselves, assuming a relaxed position.
    • Again guide them to explore how it feels and how it differs from the stressed position.

Instruction Notes:

  • While sculpting, I like to encourage the sculptor to avoid the following:
    • Giving any verbal instructions (so the whole activity is done in silence)
    • Showing the sculpture how to stand with the sculptor’s own body
  • Near the end of their sculpting session, I give everyone a 10 second warning while also reminding sculptors to add facial expressions to their sculptures.

Application Notes:

  • After the activity, you can unpack the exercise and have people share about the different physical manifestations of stress and relaxation they observed. Encourage them to note differences between how the stressful/relaxed positions created by their partners differed from the ones they created themselves (in the add-on exercise).
  • For an even more hands-on approach, you can give participants a piece of paper with an outline of a human body on it, and they can write/draw on that body the places that stress manifests for them.
  • Regarding mindfulness, you can discuss how learning the way stress shows up in our own bodies gives us important information. When combined with mindfulness, we have much more of a chance of catching early physical manifestations of stress and addressing them (de-stressing, assuming relaxed positions, other antidotes) before the stress becomes full-blown and difficult to manage.
  • Other applications of this activity:
    • I’ve used “Body Sculpting” to address a myriad of topics, ranging from gratitude (sculpt a grateful position) and peace (sculpt a peaceful position), to memories (sculpt a specific type of memory) and insight (sculpt a portrayal of a sudden burst of insight—an “aha moment”).

I need not go into how prevalent and difficult stress can be, nor how kids are dealing with it at such young ages. Nor (methinks) do I need to do anything more than mention the significant impact that mindfulness can have in helping people work effectively with their stress—indeed, just look at the preeminent role played in the field by MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction). Given all of this, I recently adapted a series of drama games to all flow together as a little unit on mindfulness and stress. I’ll present each component in this unit as a separate post over the coming weeks. The first is the Emotion Walk:

Instructions:

  • Have some participants volunteer to come up and be the “actors”. If you have a small number of volunteers (say 1-4), you can have them up for the whole activity while the rest of the group is the mindful audience. If many people volunteer, 2 or 3 participants can come up every round or two, and you can rotate through all the volunteers over the course of the game.
  • Set up the space such that there’s an open area at the front that a small group can walk across while the rest of the group (the audience) is facing that area.
  • A few volunteers will line up at one end of the open space (side to side).
  • You will give them a certain emotion or mental-state to embody (some possibilities are listed below). When you say “go,” they will all simultaneously walk across the open space, attempting to manifest the emotion/state they were given in how they move.
  • The audience’s job is to carefully watch the walkers and try to identify common patterns across volunteers for each emotion/mental-state. For instance, when the feeling is “stressed,” they may notice that a majority of the volunteers exhibited some tightness in their motions.
  • Here’s a list of possible emotions/mental-states that can be used:
    • Sad
    • Happy
    • Angry
    • Peaceful
    • Spaced-out
    • Focused
    • Stressed
    • Relaxed
  • After each emotion/mental-state is exhibited with a walk, ask participants what they noticed. You may want to keep track of what they noted for each feeling on a whiteboard or easel, so you can refer back to it as the discussion continues.
  • After each related pair of emotions/mental-states, you can compare and contrast how they manifested in the volunteers’ body language. For instance, what was different about how a person feeling anger walked when compared to a person in a peaceful state?

Application Notes:

  • While I have used this activity to tackle the topic of stress (culminating with stressed/relaxed as the final walks), you can obviously use this to focus on other feelings—or else the topic of mindfulness-of-emotions in general.
  • When digging deeper into a particular set of feelings (in this case stress), return to the list of physical manifestations that the audience observed. You can go through each particular body-language detail and ask the participants to raise their hands if they’ve noticed their own bodies doing ________ when feeling ________.
  • This then leads into a discussion about how our thoughts and feelings have very real and significant manifestations in our bodies.
  • Moreover, mindful awareness of these manifestations can be a very powerful tool.
    • On the one hand, a focus on bodily sensation related to a feeling can give us a bit of distance from the swirling thought patterns that feelings can kick up without repressing whatever is arising.
    • On the other hand, as we use mindfulness get to know our own bodies and their responses to certain mental-states or emotions, we can learn to catch early physical signs of, say, stress arising. In doing so, it is often much easier to work with stress while it’s just getting started and still small rather than when it’s a full-blown mental-emotional-physical event.
  • Okay, so mindfulness helps us be aware of the arising of certain emotions or mental states. Then what? This is where the feeling pairs from the Emotion Walk activity come in. For example, what’s a possible antidote to stress? Well, look at the list of bodily manifestations that the audience came up with for the “relaxed” walk. What if one were to attempt to shift one’s body to exhibit some aspects of relaxation. Would it impact one’s mood?
    • Now there’s a question to play with mindfully!
    • In this session, you could have everyone in the group walk across the space—first manifesting stress and then manifesting relaxation, mindfully noticing how it feels. Discuss—do you think changing your body language can change your feelings?
    • Then you can ask participants to choose one bodily manifestation of relaxation and try enacting it the next time they feel stressed. Does it help?
    • Whatever the answers, the point is to mindfully experiment with one’s own body and mind, watching and learning all along the way.

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.

Instructions:

  • 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…

 

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.

Instructions:

  • …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.

This is a wonderful way to introduce people to concentration practices. On the one hand it is a lot of fun, thus giving people an initial positive association with whatever practice they are learning. More substantially, it also gives them a very real and direct experience with some of the fundamental aspects of developing attentional stability via a meditation object such as the breath, a visual object, a mantra, etc.

Instructions:

  • Everyone gets into pairs and sits facing their partner.
  • Pairs have a “stare-off,” where the goal is to not break eye contact with each other. Blinking is okay, but if eye contact is broken then the person who broke it is knocked out of the game.
  • Each round is a total of three minutes. For the first minute, the stare-off happens in silence. For the last two minutes, participants can attempt to distract their ‘opponent.’  As other pairs finish (someone breaks the focus), they can also come and try to distract people still in astare-off.
  • At the end of three minutes, anyone still staring goes on to the next round.
  • After the first round, participants who were knocked out of the running still play an important role in the game. For one thing they can be assigned to different pairs as judges for the ongoing staring matches. Also, after the first minute of each round, they’ll be part of the distractions (and I’ve seen groups of such participants organize rather elaborate distractions).
  • This continues for as many rounds as you see fit. There need not be an ultimate winner. 
  • Afterwards, have an “unpacking” discussion session, focusing on questions like the following:
    • What tactics worked to help keep your gaze fixed?
    • What were the hardest types of distractions to ignore?
    • What worked for you when it came to ignoring distractions?
  • Having completed this process, you can now use the participants’ experience of the staring contest as a highly effective way to introduce them to whatever concentration practice(s) you may be teaching. For example, you could give the following instructions:

“Have a staring contest with the meditation object, using whatever tactics worked for you during the stare-off.  Notice how distractions will arise in the background. See if you can treat them in the very same way that you treated distractions during the staring contest.”

Instruction Notes:

  • You may want to keep track of the participants the way that names/teams are organized in a tournament (who’s competing with whom, who wins and goes on to the next competition, etc.).
  • When it comes to the distractions, you’ll likely need to set limits depending on the age of the participants. Some basic ones are, “no physical contact” or, “nothing within a one-foot bubble around each participant.” With teenagers up through college age, I’ve seen participants try to use sexual innuendos as a form of distraction, so a brief discussion about appropriateness could be in order.
  • If there are an odd number of people for any round, you can randomly select someone to get a “bye” to the next round.

Application Notes:

  • During the unpacking session, write some of the ideas shared by the participants in a place that you can return to in future classes—e.g. a large piece of paper you can save, a board that won’t get erased, a computer file that can be projected on a smart board, etc. This is especially true when it comes to tactics they found useful in a) staying focused on their opponents’ eyes, and b) ignoring distractions.
  • Having saved these group-generated tactics, you can return to them again and again when going over whatever concentration practices you may be teaching. Participants can select different tactics from the list at different times and try them out for themselves, experimenting with what works for each of their minds.
  • After participants have had some experience trying out a concentration practice and (inevitably) getting acquainted with their common distractions, it can make for an interesting discussion to compare the kinds of distractions that were most effective during the staring contest with the kinds of distractions that are most powerful during meditation.

This game is a real favorite of mine. Not only does it get participants up, moving, and having fun, but it also gives them a direct experience of how our relationship with the world has so much to do with our perspective on it. The boring and mundane suddenly get transformed into the exciting and interesting, with a bit of trust (interdependence anyone?) thrown in!

Instructions:

  • Participants get into pairs.
  • In each pair, the partners decide who will be Person A and who will be Person B, noting that it doesn’t matter much since both partners will be in both of the game’s roles.
  • In round one, Person B closes her/his eyes and Person A holds him/her by the wrist and leads Person B (carefully!) around to take some “snapshots” of the surroundings. In other words:
    • Person A leads Person B to a place.
    • By moving her/his hand up or down the arm of Person B, Person A has Person B “zoom” in or out by leaning forward or leaning back (hand moves up the arm=zoom out, and vice versa).
    • When Person B is in the right position, Person A does a quick squeeze of Person B’s wrist and person B opens her/his eyes for a split second and then closes them again.
  • This repeats for a number of “snapshots,” where Person A can show Person B all sorts of images, both up close and from a distance.
  • After several minutes, round two begins and the partners trade roles.
  • After several minutes of round two, come back together for a discussion about what participants noticed in their experience. Did they see new details that they’d never noticed, even if they’d been in that setting dozens of times before? Did they have a new experience of old details? How did that feel? Etc.

Application Notes:

  • One major piece of wisdom that mindfulness reveals is that we have limited control over what happens to us, but we can have a big influence over how we relate to what happens to us—and that can make all the difference in our experience of our lives, moment by moment. This game offers a way for participants to understand, first hand, how a shift in their relationship with a piece of sensory information (the “snapshots”) can change the feelings they have about that sensory information and, in the process, their whole mood.
  • This game also can bring to light how rich the world around us is—and how many lovely details we typically don’t notice, even when they’re right in front of our face. This can lead to a discussion of why we don’t notice such details in general (e.g. not being in the present moment; the tendency of our minds to categorize objects/people/settings and then mostly only see the categories, and not the things themselves; etc.) How much more full and vivid would our experience of the world be if we truly were able to greet each moment and all the details therein with a clear, curious, and powerful awareness? How does mindfulness training move us in that direction?
  • Another relevant topic to this game is appreciation and gratitude. When our minds put something into the category of “been there, done that,” we tend to take it for granted. Unfortunately, it’s often the people/activities/places/objects that are most important to us that are the most overlooked. The “snapshots” in the game likely helped participants see mundane details anew, with “beginner’s mind.” What would it be like if we could similarly look anew at the major features of our lives?
  • One layer of this activity is the trust that participants have to put into their partners when they close their eyes and are led around. You could cue participants to be mindful of their thoughts and feelings around these vulnerable moments, and then follow up with a discussion on trust, fear, interdependence, and even vulnerability.

This starts off with the improv warm-up game, the Random Word Generator. As a warm-up it can be used to “break the ice” in a group and open participants’ minds to greater possibility and spontaneity. The game then shifts to a gratitude centered activity, though given its flexible nature it can likely be used to open up a number of mindfulness-related topics.

Instructions:

  • Let everyone know that they’ll be saying a spontaneous word based on a different word that they’ll hear. It’s only natural to be tempted to think up some word possibilities before the game starts—just notice the mind doing that and put all of those premeditated words off to the side, as the point of this game is to be spontaneous.
  • Split the group into two lines that face each other, several feet apart.
  • Choose a person on the end of a line to go first by saying a random word (word 1). Let’s say that this participant is person 1 in line A.
  • The person across from them (person 1 in line B) hears the starting word (word 1) and, as quickly as possible, says a different word (word 2) that word 1 called to mind.
  • Then person 2 in line A takes in word 2 and, as quickly as possible, responds with a different word that word 2 brought to mind.
  • This process continues zigzagging between line A and B until the last person speaks their spontaneous word.
  • After a few rounds, let everyone know that they’ll be shifting from spontaneity to gratitude. Now they can think of some words to use in advance, by taking several silent seconds to come up with various things they are grateful for.
  • Replay the game for a few rounds where the zigzagging words that emerge are all things the participants are grateful for.
  • If the group seems up for a challenge, you can combine the spontaneity and gratitude into one. After the first word of gratitude spoken, every following word will be both a spontaneous response to the word right before it while at the same time being something the speaker is grateful for.

Instruction Notes:

  • It can be helpful (especially for younger participants) to start off with a practice round where you go down the aisle between the lines, pointing to each person when it’s their turn.
  • After a round or two, you can time how long it takes to go from the first person to the last person, encouraging the group to keep breaking their record. This adds a fun element of pressure to the game that pushes participants to think even faster, pushing the edge of their spontaneity.
  • To change things up, you can shift the starting person from round to round simply by beginning with a different “end of line”.

Application Notes:

  • As mentioned before, this game works well as a warm-up for a whole class, or even as a fun segue that gets people up and active and having fun.
  • One result of the game is that it quickly brings to the surface a wide range of things for which people are grateful. These various ideas can be drawn on for a number of different gratitude activities that can follow this one.
  • As with any gratitude exercise, you can have participants mindfully keep track of their emotional and mental states from the beginning to the end of the game. One effective way for doing this is to have occasional check-ins (at the start, perhaps two times (or more if the group seems amenable) during the game, and at the end). The group can then have a follow-up discussion about what people noticed, giving special attention to any mental/emotional shifts, why those happened, and what life lessons can be drawn from that.
  • For an older (as in teen and up) group, the spontaneity-focused part of the game provides an opportunity to watch the instructions about responding “in the moment” come up against the mind’s tendency to plan and form expectations. It’s worth giving this process some extra mindfulness cues and discussion time, since it raises a range of juicy topics (expectations, being in the moment, conscious (premeditated) responses vs. unconscious (‘spontaneous’) responses, etc.).

So you’ve probably played this one before—something of a hybrid between the Telephone Game and Pictionary.  It’s not exactly a drama game, but it’s a fun and creative way to open up a topic, which in this case is relaxation. As with any of these games, I’m presenting it the way I’ve used it. You may think of a different (or better) way to apply it to mindfulness education (in which case we’d love to hear about it in the comments section).

Instructions:

  • Everyone starts with a piece of paper and a pen or pencil, sitting in a circle.
  • Have each participant fold the piece of paper such that there are 6 horizontal sections.
  • In the top section, each participant writes down a way that they like to relax.
  • Everyone then passes their paper to the person on their left.
  • Having received a new piece of paper, the participants read about the relaxation technique of their neighbor. Then, in the second horizontal section on the paper, they draw a quick (30 seconds) sketch that portrays their neighbor’s written technique. Finally, they fold the top section backwards so that it is no longer visible when looking at the front of the page. With their drawings now at the top of the page, they pass the paper to the people on their left.
  • In the horizontal section under the drawing they just received, participants write a sentence that attempts to portray what the drawing shows. Having done so, they fold the drawing back so that their sentence is at the top of the page and the previous sentence and drawing are no longer visible. They then pass the sheet to the person on their left.
  • This continues, with sentences and pictures alternating, until the last horizontal section has been drawn in and the sheet has been passed one more time to the left.
  • Participants can each take turns describing to the group what they think the drawing portrays on the sheet they’re currently holding. Having done so, they then unfold the sheet and read out loud the first sentence that was written on it.
  • The result is usually that there’s been a significant (and often humorous) drift from the original sentence to the final spoken one. After participants have shared, it’s fun to pass the sheets around in an informal way for people to take a look at how the drift happened.

Application Notes:

  • Whereas some games are good for digging into the content at hand, this one is more about simply introducing a topic (relaxation) in a fun way so as to create a positive association with the material, change up the modalities of instruction, and break the ice between participants.
  • That said, one outcome of the game is that participants have shared relaxation techniques that they use, empowering them to realize that they already have experience and expertise when it comes to working with their own minds and feelings.
  • Another outcome is that the group now has a bank of relaxation techniques that, if fitting for the class, can be explored together.