Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

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”).
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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 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!

Notes:

  • 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…

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.).