Mindfulness exercises for groups is a great way to incorporate meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises into your daily routine. By now we all know that people who meditate are happier, healthier and more productive than people who don’t, and yet, some of us still struggle to keep it up. Often when left alone to our own devices we get demotivated, lazy and frustrated.
I really understand, sometimes I am my own worst enemy and can make up a million excuses not to meditate, exercise or eat well. However, mindfulness may just be the thing you need to get going. When we do exercise as a group, whether its meditation or body fitness, doing it with other people can be really motivating. Groups help us to be accountable, they encourage us to socialize and meet like minded people. Its a win-win really.
Mindfulness Group Activities
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”– Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness has many benefits. Not only does it improve our emotional well being and reduce stress and anxiety, but it can improve our overall health too. When we practice mindfulness through group activities, we can quickly turn a sometimes difficult and individually focused exercise into a FUN and appealing game.
Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to assist not only adults but kids and teenagers too. Giving people the skills to increase their attention span, helping children to improve their grades and providing society as a whole with better coping skills. Mindfulness group activities can be practiced in large or intimate groups or even in smaller friendship circles. Making it super easy to incorporate mindfulness into any given situation.
1. A Mindful Eating Exercise
A mindful eating exercise, sometimes called the raisin exercise is a common mindfulness practice and for good reason. We have written a few articles around the benefits and importance of mindful eating, and you can find all the exercises here.
However, these posts are written for the individual. Mindful eating exercises can be a lot more fun when done in a group. Personally, I struggle to incorporate mindful eating into my day. It is the one mindful thing I cannot seem to consistently do, but when its done as a group ITS A LOT EASIER!
Mindful eating, is eating and savouring food in awareness. Food is treated as a sensory experience, whereby you pay acute attention to what your food looks like, smells like, feels like and what textures you experience when you eat it. Its a wonderful way to bring yourself to the present moment, and allow your mind to stop worrying about all your stresses, fears or worries.
To start this exercise as a group decide on a food you all enjoy. Raisins are usually used, but feel free to try all berries, grapes or dates. Begin by passing out your food, each person taking one raspberry for example. Ask each group member to pretend they have never seen a raspberry before. Then ask everyone to bring their full attention to the berry and clear everything else from their mind.
Look at the berry, what do you notice, how does it feel in your hands? What is particular about the texture, shape or smell of the fruit. Take your time and immerse yourself in the experience. Now, put the berry in your mouth and eat it slowly. As you chew, how does the berry change in the mouth? how does it feel on your tongue, and what sensations come up when you bite into it? If any other thoughts arise, gently let them go and bring your focus back onto eating the berry.
2. Mindful Communication
Good communication skills are essential for any healthy relationships. It seems obvious, but many of us don’t actually listen well, or try to understand others. Often in our conversations with other people we are silently judging, too busy formulating our response and not listening to understand the other person at all. Mindful communication means letting go of all the attention and awareness we usually put on our own words, and focusing solely on the people we are talking to.
Mindful Listening Exercise
As a therapist, mother and partner I have seen first-hand how much people appreciate being heard. When we listen mindfully, not only do we allow the speaker to be fully seen, non-judgementally, but it enables the listener to practice being still, to free their mind from mental clutter and just be in the moment.
This is an activity for listening and speaking. To begin, each person in the group must think about either one of these points:
- What brings you joy and what brings you anxiety?
- What do you like and dislike about yourself?
- What is one thing you fear and one thing you hope for?
When you have thought about the questions, each person takes a turn to share their answer. When the person speaks, the others who are listening try and give the speaker your full attention. Pay attention to the speaker’s words, body language and tone of voice. Truly listen to what and how they are communicating to you. As the speaker, think about what it feels like to speak and how it feels to talk about something personal.
Everyone should pay attention to their own thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations as they talk and speak together. If your mind wanders, and random thoughts pop-up, gently bring yourself back to the present and focus on the speaker again.
After each person has spoken, break into pairs and discuss the following:
- What feelings came up for you when you spoke or listened during the exercise?
- If your mind wandered, what thoughts came up for you?
- How did you bring yourself back to the present moment?
- Did you find yourself judging the person as they spoke? If so what came up for you?
- How did you feel physically after you spoke? How did you feel physically after you listened?
- How are you feeling right now in this moment?
- How can mindful listening change the way you interact with the people around you?
- How can mindful listening help to change you as a person?
Once you have finished working in pairs, get back into a larger group and discuss how the above exercise made you feel? What did you learn?
3. Six Sense-Doors Activity
The six sense-doors activity comes from Buddhist teachings. Buddhists highlight that we experience the world through six gateways. Each moment in our lives involves an experience, this experience comes into our awareness through six senses, these are: Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and the mind. Our mind door relates to all our thoughts, emotions and metal imagery.
For the exercise the group should sit in a circle. Out loud each person has a chance to say what they are thinking, feeling, hearing and seeing in the present moment. This doesn’t have to be complicated. For example:
“Right now I am noticing that I am hungry, my stomach is aching slightly and I hear a car.”
After each person has noted what is going on, the person will then name one of the six sense-doors: seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, feeling, or thinking.
For example, you may start by saying, “Right now I am noticing my breath… Smelling.” Then, the next person has to note something they are smelling.
By naming a sense-door and giving the next person a specific experience to reflect on, it will stop people from planning what they want to say in advance. This exercise encourages you to be mindful of something you’re not usually mindful of! If you find your mind wandering when someone else is speaking, gently let it go, and bring yourself back to the present moment.
4. Mindfulness Full Body Scan
A mindfulness body scan is a popular exercise for people starting to practice mindfulness. Usually this is done alone, but it can be incorporated as one of many group exercises.
Follow the body scan audio below by the famous Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of modern mindfulness, or for a full body scan script see what we have written here.
Once the body scan has finished, everyone should come back to the room slowly, open their eyes and get into a seated position.
As a group discuss how this exercise made you feel? Did you struggle during the exercise? Did thoughts keep popping up, and if so how did you bring yourself back to the present moment? Is the body scan something you could incorporate into your daily routine?
How Can You Practice Mindfulness With Your Child?
When we teach mindfulness to our children we give them the skills and tools to develop self-awareness and self-control. We give them the knowledge to understand their emotions both internally and externally and we enable them to recognize when their attention has wandered.
- First and foremost make sure you practice mindfulness yourself. I firmly believe in leading by example. When you have established your own understanding and practice, your teaching will be authentic. This does not mean you have to be perfect at it, there is no such thing but rather create a mindful lifestyle at home so mindfulness becomes part of your daily routine. This could be your own 5 minute seated meditation or a mindful eating exercise.
- Keep your practice simple. Explain mindfulness in a way that is easy to understand. Being mindful is being aware. Noticing your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations in the here and now, that’s it!
- Recognize your own expectations. Mindfulness will not necessarily cure your toddler’s tantrums or your teenager’s emotional outbursts. Mindfulness may not make your home a quiet sanctuary. The aim of mindfulness is not to get your children to reach a heightened state of peace and relaxation, although this may be a side effect. Mindfulness will give your children invaluable emotional skills to develop emotional regulation and focus.
- Don’t push too hard. Many children wont be interested in your mindful ideas or activities. If this is the case, leave it be and try again later.
Below are some great mindful exercises that will help you to introduce mindfulness to your children.
Mindfulness For Teens
Below you will find some adapted mindfulness exercises designed specifically for teenagers. Often we talk about how stressed we are as adults, but we tend to neglect the fact that teenagers are reporting higher levels of stress than ever before. One of the biggest concerns I have is that many children and teenagers alike, are using technology as a means to cope with worry, anxiety and depression. While technology itself is not necessarily a bad thing, what it has done is teach young people to numb or avoid their feelings rather than manage them effectively. This is where mindfulness can help!
1. Mindful Music
There is no better way to get a teenager to practice mindfulness than through their favourite music. Allow each teenager to choose a song they really enjoy. Play the song for only 1-2 minutes. While the song is playing instead of focusing on the lyrics, get each participant to listen to the music itself.
Encourage the group members to focus fully on the music. Ask them to put all other thoughts aside, just for this 1-2 minute exercise?
- Ask them to pay attention to what instruments they can hear.
- Is the beat fast or slow?
- What emotions does the song bring up for them?
- Where do they feel the music in the body?
- Did other thoughts pop up in their mind? What did they do with these thoughts?
- Everyone should share their experiences with the group.
2. Mindful Movement
Mindfulness can be adapted to include physical exercise and movement. Practices such as yoga, mindful walking and balancing are some of the ones I enjoy doing with my son.
Mindful exercises can be done anywhere. As a group this can be a great way to get outside, socialise and enjoy nature. Pack a picnic basket, bring some games and go have some fun! Start the walk by asking the group to consciously let go of all their worry and stress. Take a few deep breaths if necessary. Encourage everyone to become aware of their surroundings. What can they hear, see and smell?
As you walk along ask them to notice how their body feels with each movement. Ask them to notice their breathing, heartbeat and how their foot feels as it makes each stride. If they feel their mind wandering, thats okay, ask them to gently bring their focus back onto their stride. Do this until you have completed your walk, spending only 10-15 minutes just being present outside.
Once you have reached your destination, sit in a circle and discuss how the exercise was for everyone? What did they notice? How were they feeling? How do they feel now? Once everyone has had a chance, enjoy the rest of the day outside!
Balancing exercises are fun. Before you start the exercise, make sure everyone is grounded. Take a few deep breaths, and ask them to bring their attention to the present moment. If they have thoughts rushing through their mind, tell them its ok, acknowledge that they are there and then bring their attention back to the here and now.
Ask each person to balance on one foot. As they struggle to stay still, ask them to become aware of the muscles in their ankle, legs and body. Encourage them to think about what it feels like to want to put their other foot on the ground so they don’t topple over? While they are balancing ask them to take a few deep breaths, and pay attention only to their breath.
After a few minutes of balancing and falling everyone can come back into a group and talk about the exercise.
3. Technology Detox / Play Board Games
Everyone one on the planet should have periods of time throughout the day where we take at least a 20-minute break from technology. No phones, iPads, computers or T.V. Investing in a few board games is another fun mindful exercise, where we can put technology aside and practice mindfulness.
Gone are the days where Monopoly, Chess and Pictionary were your only board game choices. Today we are lucky enough to have thousands of different types of games at our disposal. Playing games helps everyone to focus and concentrate on the activity in front of you. Board games also teach people how to strategize, think and stimulate brain activity. Most importantly its a FUN exercise you can play with the whole family.
Mindfulness Games For Kids
Mindfulness exercises can be suitable for young children too. All the above exercises can accommodate children, however, I have found that the younger ones can get a little bored and distracted. If you have babies and toddlers, rather read my mindfulness for toddlers article here. For older children try these cool mindful games below:
1. Mindful Jenga
You are going to need to buy yourself a Jenga set first. I recommend the giant set, but any will do. If you have the game already, find a marker pen and write a prompt along the length of each block. These prompts can be instructions, thoughts or questions. When you play the game, each time a child pulls out a block they will need to follow the instruction or answer the question written on the block.
Here are a few examples of some prompts I have used before, but feel free to try whatever you like:
- What can you see right now?
- What do you hear right now?
- What makes you laugh?
- What makes you sad?
- Laugh out loud.
- Take three deep breaths.
- Close your eyes and listen to your heart beat.
2. Mindful Colouring
I have written about mindful drawing and colouring before. However, when we mindfully colour with children we get them to start practicing meditation from an early age. Colouring is a truly wonderful exercise that encourages awareness in the here and now, it teaches children to be present, silent and still for just a few moments in their day.
I would suggest that as a group the children should colour collectively. Get them to pass a drawing around and colour one block at a time in silence. When they have finished, discuss the exercise.
Ask the children to be mindful of the colours they choose to use, why did they select red, blue or green? Ask them how it feels as they progress from an unfinished drawing to a completed one? Allow the kids to talk about their friend’s drawings, what does it make them feel like, why do they like them?
3. Do your own weather report
Sit with your child and ask them to give you a weather report that best describes their feelings in that moment. “sunny, rainy, windy, calm, stormy or tornado?” The activity will allow children to observe their present feelings without over-identifying with their emotions. Teach them that they can’t always change the weather outside just like you can’t change your emotions or feelings either. However, you can change how you respond/relate to them.
Explain to your child they are not the rain, but they can notice that it’s raining. Ask them to identify where they feel the “rain” and encourage them to acknowledge they are not defined by their feeling. If they feel their emotions become too much they can breathe through the stormy weather.
As you can see from the above, mindfulness exercises for groups is a fun and easy way to incorporate mindfulness in both your and your children’s lives. Group experiences can add a joyful dimension to your life, as you interact with people you love or with people you have only just met. When we adopt a mindful approach to our lives not only will we become calmer, but we will be more productive and healthier as a result. Use mindfulness to strengthen your relationships with people and use it to teach yourself new skills, the possibilities are endless!