If you already know about mindfulness, you may think of it as an individual experience: a practice to be engaged in when alone at home. It certainly can be done that way, but you may also encounter it in group settings, like at school or work.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s a Mindfulness Group Exercise?
- Mindfulness Group Exercises for Adults
- Mindfulness Group Exercises for Children
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your focus to the present moment. For example, you may focus on your breath or specific stimuli in the environment, like the sounds you can hear.
Mindfulness can be considered a type of meditation. It differs from meditation, though, as it asks you to concentrate on the present moment. Meditation often asks you to focus the mind on something other than what is in the room with you—for example, a repeated word or mantra.
If you want more information, we have written about the history of mindfulness and compiled a list of books about mindfulness.
You can use mindfulness on the go: bringing your attention to the present moment can be done in the car or at your desk at work. It does not require a silent space or comfortable clothes. This also allows mindfulness to be effectively done in a group setting.
What’s a Mindfulness Group Exercise?
A mindfulness group exercise is precisely what it sounds like—engaging in mindfulness with a group. Examples of group mindfulness include a traditional classroom, staff meeting, yoga class, AA meeting, or church service. Mindfulness can quickly be done in a group as it is a quiet, individual activity. It usually asks participants to do nothing other than be comfortable and breathe. The remaining activity is inside the mind of the individual.
Specifically, in the workplace setting, group mindfulness is referred to as team mindfulness. Mindfulness in the workplace can be executed in many ways. Many companies are providing services that help the individual with their mindfulness journey.
Companies like Headspace provide corporate programs intended to support workplace mindfulness. These types of programs are becoming very popular in the post-COVID world. Employers recognize mentally healthy employees are more productive and better problem-solvers.
Team mindfulness can take many different forms. Workdays can start with short mindfulness meditations, guided or individual. Mindful breaks can be provided throughout the day. This can be organized into group-guided meditations, or individual employees can decide how to use the time.
It is helpful to begin meetings with mindfulness, encouraging participants to relax and let go of any judgment about what they expect to happen.
Before we carry on, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone will enjoy mindfulness in a group. For a multitude of reasons, individuals can feel vulnerable when asked to relax with people who may only be acquaintances. When asking for participants, especially in situations people cannot escape from (work, school), it is beneficial to let people opt out.
Before you let them know they can opt out, make sure you cover the benefits of mindfulness. They should make an informed decision. Finally, don't forget to offer tools to practice mindfulness independently.
Purpose of group mindfulness
The purpose of group exercises for mindfulness is to introduce multiple people at once to the practice. Depending on the group, it can also serve to help people maintain the practice. The individuals in these groups may then experience the benefits of mindfulness, of which there are many.
Mindfulness, even done infrequently, can result in improved mental and physical health. Individuals who practice mindfulness experience fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. Bringing your mind to the present moment trains the brain to focus on things other than negative emotions.
Fewer negative thoughts and emotions make room for positive thoughts and emotions. People who frequently engage in mindfulness report feelings of well-being more often than those who don't. A mindfulness practice means you are more likely to be in a good mood. Those with a positive mindset (or good mood) are kinder to others, more creative, and better problem-solvers.
Your physical health can benefit from mindfulness as well. Those who practice mindfulness are less likely to experience high blood pressure. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce chronic pain and decrease the symptoms of gastrointestinal issues like IBS.
In addition, as mindfulness can lower stress levels, the physical consequences of stress are lessened as well. Stress headaches, body aches, and nausea due to stress can be positively affected by mindfulness.
These outcomes can have different positive results depending on the group in question. For example, schools that engage in consistent mindfulness with students see fewer referrals and out-of-school suspensions. Schools also see reduced absenteeism.
Workplaces that have introduced team mindfulness see their employees report more overall happiness with their work. Conflict between employees is reduced, and productivity increases. Mindful managers are more trusted and valued by their employers.
Mindfulness in group therapy settings
Mindfulness can be used in other therapeutic venues like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or group therapy. In this case, the purpose is to utilize the psychologically therapeutic aspects of mindfulness. Research has found mindfulness to be helpful for those suffering from anorexia, addictions, and even behavior issues in prison.
When people focus on the moment at hand, they may have a better capacity to manage their impulses. The internal voice telling you not to eat or take just a small drink may be quieted by your focus on the present. Mindfulness can help people navigate some very tough times.
Mindfulness Group Exercises for Adults
Adults can be good candidates for mindfulness. If you want enthusiastic participation, it is essential to go over the practice's many benefits. If you have many adults in your group that are new to mindfulness, it may be wise to start with short activities. They can acclimate to the practice, experience some benefits, and hopefully want more.
The following are a few examples of mindfulness group exercises that can be done with adults.
1. Morning body scan
Body scans are a very common type of mindfulness. First, you can focus on your breathing. Then, a body scan asks you to start from either the top or bottom of your body and simply observe the sensations in your body.
The scan can include tensing and releasing specific muscles as you travel around the body. These can be guided via a recording or YouTube video or explained and done independently accompanied by some calming music.
Body scans could be especially good for the workplace as mornings can be pretty hectic. An employee's morning can be stressful, from getting out of bed to helping children off to school or daycare to traffic. A morning body scan can identify those tense areas before they become distracting and unpleasant aches.
2. The raisin exercise
This is an excellent activity for beginners and can be done repeatedly with items other than raisins.
Hand out 2-3 raisins to all participants. Then ask them to think and do the following:
- Hold the raisins. Feel the weight of them in your hands. How do they feel?
- Look at the raisins. Examine them visually as if you have never seen a raisin before. Notice how each is unique from the others.
- Touch the raisins. Pick them up, and roll them around with your fingertips. How do they feel?
- Smell the raisins. Try to come up with words for the scent in your mind. Does it smell like anything else? Is it pleasant?
- Put a raisin in your mouth. What does it feel like now? Is this a different sensation from holding or touching it?
- Chew the raisins. What are the flavors you are experiencing? Is there more than one? Which is the strongest?
- Swallow the raisins. What is that sensation like? Can you feel it as it descends from the back of your throat?
- Sit and notice if anything is different. How does your mouth feel? Throat? Your stomach? Is anything different?
You can find a more detailed description of the raisin exercise and a printable PDF script here.
Mindfulness Group Exercises for Children
Children can be more enthusiastic and less manageable when it comes to mindfulness group activities. Young children may struggle to sit still and be quiet, while older children may struggle to remain relaxed and present in front of their peers. These facts should not deter you if you want to start a mindfulness practice with a group of children. Children can reap just as many rewards from mindfulness as adults.
3. Red light, green light for mindfulness
Most young children will know how to play the playground game of red light, green light.
Traditionally, children line up and try to make it across a distance before anyone else. There is someone yelling “red light" and "green light" at different intervals. Students need to go as fast as possible during the green lights and be sure to stop immediately when red light is called; if they don't, they are out of the game.
Mindful red light, green light asks students to practice switching mental focus. When the leader says green light, participants should spend time examining their environment. Find things to see, hear, smell, and touch. When red light is called, students close their eyes and focus on their breathing.
This game helps children to see how they have control over their minds. They practice switching from immersion in the current moment to focusing on just one part of the present moment: their breathing.
4. Mindfulness gratitude
Older children can benefit from focusing on their blessings in the present moment. Mindfulness gratitude asks children to spend a few moments generating feelings of gratitude for the circumstances in their current environment. Mindfulness gratitude asks you to focus for some time on what there is to be grateful for in the present moment.
- The warmth of the room
- A bird singing outside
- The comfort of your own regulated breathing
- Your functioning body
- The presence of others
This exercise provides opportunities for children to develop gratitude for the moment they are in and helps them be mindful of what to be grateful for.
Mindfulness in Groups is Easy and Beneficial
Mindfulness is always in the individual's mind, but that does not mean it cannot be done in groups. Mindfulness in groups is an efficient way to introduce the benefits of mindfulness and have the consequences positively affect the group.
Research has found schools and businesses both benefit when mindfulness is introduced. It is also cheap and easy to do. As a result, group mindfulness has the potential to become standard in schools and workplaces. So don't be afraid to introduce mindfulness into your group activities.
- Alessandro, Andrea M., Kaitlyn M. Butterfield, Lerna Hanceroglu, and Kim P. Roberts. “Listen to the Children: Elementary School Students’ Perspectives on a Mindfulness Intervention.” Journal of Child & Family Studies, April 29, 2022, 1–13. doi:10.1007/s10826-022-02292-3.
- Birdie, Arvind K. “Mindfulness and Its Role in Workplace.” Indian Journal of Positive Psychology 6, no. 4 (October 2015): 432–35.
- Robinson, Alice. “Mastering Mindfulness: Fostering a Mindfulness Culture in Children.” Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children 18, no. 1 (Spring 2020): 17–18. doi:10.5860/cal.18.1.17.