Adding Mindfulness Activities to RT Programming

What do you picture when you think of mindfulness activities? A peaceful person sitting cross-legged on a big, fluffy pillow?

Sure, that’s a form of mindfulness. But mindfulness meditation is only a small part of a powerful practice.

Mindfulness is awareness of the moment. There are many mindfulness activities to help individuals become more aware. And, of course, it can be adapted to specific populations based on their strengths and needs. 

The best part: You can incorporate mindfulness into activities you already do. No need to buy big, fluffy pillows.

Benefits of Mindfulness Activities

Why add mindfulness to recreation therapy activities? It’s all about the benefits. 

We can spend a whole series of blog posts talking about the benefits of mindfulness. But let’s boil it down into a few key points based on psychotherapy research.

  • Emotion regulation: Identifying distressing thoughts and feelings and how they affect a participant at the moment
  • Decreased reactivity & increased response flexibility: Identifying triggers and creating strategies to manage them more appropriately 
  • Developing interpersonal skills: Ability to respond better to relationship stress and communicate more effectively
  • Intrapersonal benefits: Gaining insights into inner dialogues and emotions
  • Decreased stress, anxiety, and depression: Becoming more grounded in the moment to incorporate effective coping skills
  • Developing empathy: Understanding others and how they affect an individual.

Aside from these, the health and overall wellness benefits of routinely practicing mindfulness are well documented.

So let’s look at how we can–practically–add mindfulness into our existing recreation programming.

Pause for a Breath Break

As you probably know, one technique for mindfulness meditation is focusing on the breath. If you can’t see your participants sitting quietly in a room and paying attention to their breath for very long, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon the practice.

breathing as a mindfulness activity

In fact, focusing on the breath can be a powerful way to change the trajectory of a group or activity that isn’t going as you expected (like that ever happens).

Breath Break Example

Your leisure education group isn’t going over well. Participants are unfocused and disruptive.

Pause the group. Instruct everyone to sit quietly. Do a brief breathwork activity like mentally saying inhale while inhaling and exhale while exhaling. Give them an incentive to do this–like challenging them to see who could do it the longest.

After a minute or two, congratulate the participants for completing the breathwork pause. Refocus the group with a clear expectation about what’s next.  

Check-in with Surroundings

Another aspect of mindfulness is awareness of the senses. Since some populations we work with struggle with sensory issues, mindfully noticing what’s going on in the participants’ environment has added benefits.

Like pausing for a breath break, stop the group or activity for a minute or two and allow your participants to notice their surroundings. This pause could work for just about any recreation therapy activity.

Check-in with Surroundings Example

You’re running a soccer practice. During a water break, have your participants notice everything going on around them. Ask them what they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. If necessary, guide them through the process.

It will go something like this:

What do you feel right now?

I feel a light breeze on my face. And my legs are a little tired after doing that last drill.

What do you hear?

I hear a train in the distance. A car just honked its horn. Birds are chirping in the tree by the goalpost. 

Use Guided Imagery

Guided imagery–a technique using positive mental images to reach a desired state–is a great way to allow your participants’ imaginations to focus on a common theme like a recreation experience. Think of it as a mental roleplay. Your imagination only limits the applications of this mindfulness technique.

The key to effective guided imagery is encouraging your participants to imagine with all their senses.

Guided Imagery Example

You just finished your group and noticed a few moments left before the session ends. Make the group’s topic (or any related topic) a guided imagery experience.

Say you just did a leisure education group on using recreation to cope with anxiety. Have your participants imagine a time when they were anxious. Guide them to feel that experience with all their senses. Now have them picture an activity that helps them feel calm. 

Gently guide them through the activity. 

You are now doing your favorite calming activity. Picture where you are while doing it. What do you see around you? Are you sitting or standing? Now imagine really getting into the activity. What does it feel like while doing it? Do you hear anything? How does it feel when you start calming down? 

For more info, check out my older post about creating guided meditations.

Move with Mindfulness

Mindful movement is often associated with yoga. Of course, just like meditation, yoga may not be for everyone. Any activity that requires movement also has the potential for a mindfulness experience. It’s all about being aware of what they are doing.

Mindful Movement Examples

Encourage your participants to focus on particular movements while doing an activity. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Paying attention to footsteps while going for a walk
  • Saying movements while playing catch–I grab the ball, I move my arm backwards… 
  • Focusing on the sensation of hand movements and the pencil on paper while doodling

The Takeaway

As Recreation Therapists and healing professionals, we have countless opportunities for our participants to explore and practice mindfulness through activities. As we continue teaching these practices, we build on them to benefit our participants and the quality of our programming.

You Make A Difference

This blog is all about helping Recreation Therapists, healing professionals, and parents better serve others through recreation.  

Your experiences matter. The ideas and input you offer can help others. Comment below, share your thoughts in the Real Recreation Therapist Facebook Group, and reach out if you have an excellent idea for more articles.

Let’s build this community together.  

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