We asked iBme Teacher Training faculty Anthony “T” Maes his top tips for bringing relational practice into mindfulness and he shared these 6 relational mindfulness games teens love. T found mindfulness during college when struggling with addiction, and it saved his life. He’s been teaching since 2009 for various organizations including Spirit Rock, East Bay Meditation Center, Mindful Schools and iBme, and has worked as a wilderness mentor for middle-schoolers with Stepping Stones Project and Back To Earth.
Have you ever noticed that it’s easy to stay centered when you’re meditating alone, but the moment you start interacting with other people things get complicated?
“We’re deeply interconnected, but we live in a hyper-individualist culture,” says iBme Teacher Training Faculty Anthony “T” Maes. “We need to balance it by turning towards other people and living beings.”
How can you, as a teacher, start to bring this relational aspect of mindfulness into how you practice and teach teens? Here are T’s tips for teaching relational mindfulness to teens and 6 games and exercises to try out with the teens you teach.
Tips for Exploring Relational Mindfulness with Teens
- Build safety and trust. Establish safety first before asking folks to dive deep. Without that, relational mindfulness can feel scary + downright triggering. Having a grounded, receptive energy as a facilitator helps set the stage for this, as well as co-creating agreements.
- Co-create group agreements. Empower young people to create agreements that would help them feel safe enough to share + be seen. As the teacher, you can help guide this process + offer suggestions or adaptations, as need be. Check out a suggested list of agreements to consider. Emphasize “Mindful Listening” (see below) if they don’t suggest it themselves. This can be the core skill that turns these from simply fun games to the magic and insight of Relational Mindfulness.
- Talk about judgment. Judgment is the elephant in the room when it comes to relational mindfulness. Encourage a curious, open-hearted attitude, but also normalize peoples’ aversive reactions. Discuss how to handle judgment, when it arises. Make it “ok” for people to feel judgment, while emphasizing that we can agree to not let judgments out through words or “stink-eye” (judgy facial expressions).
- Lead with realness. Use thoughtful self-disclosure to show your students you’re a real human being – not just their “teacher.” Participate in the activities. Model the kind of vulnerability + authenticity you want to encourage in your students.
- Start simple. It can take time for people to warm up to relational mindfulness. Start off light and easy with more playful exercises like lightning rounds (see below).
- Give permission to go deep . . . or not. Not everyone will feel comfortable sharing deep or sensitive things about themselves – and that’s ok! Normalize and welcome all experiences and encourage students to open up on their own time.
- Introduce vulnerability. When it becomes clear that students are really listening to each other respectfully, and they feel safe to be more vulnerable without fearing judgment, you can make space for students to share more sensitive, hidden parts of themselves with prompts like “What’s a challenge you’ve overcome in your life?”
- Make it fun. Bring in lightness and play. Use laughter, movement, music, and faster-paced games to build energy if the group feels timid, sluggish, or heavy.
- Read the room. Tap into what’s alive in the group and adjust how you’re teaching. Sleepy? Do something fun. Cozy and relaxed? Introduce a more vulnerable exercise. Sense what serves the group best in that moment.
- Keep it optional. Remind students that everything is an invitation, not a requirement. Give them the option to participate or not in any activity and encourage them to check in with themselves around what feels good to them.
6 Relational Mindfulness Games Teens Love
Here are some of T’s favorite practices to teach relationship mindfulness. Feel free to adapt and develop them.
- Lightning Rounds. Start with a simple prompt like “my favorite animal is. . .” or “something I’m noticing right now is . . .”. Go around the circle having people share whatever comes to mind first. Remind people not to rehearse and to trust what comes up in the moment!
- “If you really knew me…” Start off with the prompt “If you really knew me, you would know …” and have each person in the group share.
- Mindful Listening. Use your definition of mindfulness and apply it to this interpersonal experience: “we can pay attention in the present moment to the other person’s words and feelings with kindness and curiosity. We can also notice how we feel while we listen (notice our thoughts, feelings, sensations with that same kindness and curiosity).” In pairs or trios. Let each person take a turn speaking, while the other(s) practice mindful listening in silence.
- Sweet Seat. Also known as “hot seat”. One person becomes the object of the group’s mindful awareness (they volunteer) + answer questions the group asks from a kind, curious place. This exercise benefits from clear boundaries and tight facilitation as a teacher, including “no cross talk”, having the facilitator call on students who’ve raised their hand, saying “thank you” after hearing the answer, and ending with a round of verbal appreciation for the person on the sweet seat.
- Repeating Questions. In pairs or triads, have one person answer a repeating question such as “what are you aware of right now”? Then switch.
- Rose, Thorn, Bud. Use this as a check-in. Have people share a “Rose” (something you’ve enjoyed), “Thorn” (something that’s been painful or challenging for you), and a “Bud” (something you’re looking forward to).
Find out more about Anthony “T” Maes and his courses on relational mindfulness.
Find out more about iBme’s Mindfulness Teacher Training.