Series on Games: Sensitivity
Updated: Jun 29
At TrainMovePlay we only play games with kids...and teens... and adults; and small, intimate groups of people who know each other well and large groups just meeting; and to break the ice, let off steam, come into contact, and loads of other reasons. Games serve so many purposes that when we sat down to write one blog post about how and why we use them, it quickly became a whole series of posts! So settle in for a series on games and tasks.
In this post we share the games we use most often to build sensitivity and receptivity within a group. We provide detailed instructions on how to play them, with notes about the groups and situations in which we find them most useful, and tips for leading them effectively. We'll also include variations to make them more versatile, challenging, or appropriate.
Stay receptive to information coming in; thoughtful about the information going out.
Much of what we do asks people to stretch their boundaries of trusting others and to push the envelope of their own self-reliance. When we play around the edges in this way, we must be vigilant about staying sensitive: receptive to information coming in and thoughtful about the information we send out.
Instructions for Play:
In groups of two people, Partner A begins the game by sitting, lying, kneeling, squatting, or assuming some other low level shape.
Partner B traverses Partner A by climbing over her or him. Then Partner B creates a low level shape and Partner A climbs over.
Partners keep alternating between roles of the platform and the climber.
The goal here is for the players to develop a sense of how to 1) create stable shapes that can support another person's weight and 2) how to pour weight into a partner in a way that allows the platform to remain stable. In other words, the flyer is trying to help the base stay stable and the base is trying to help the flyer be mobile.
When and With Whom:
Any time we have a group of very new bases we like this game because it is a way of becoming confident in one's ability to hold up another person. Most people begin in very safe and familiar shapes (table, even corpse pose!) Without further instructions nor encouragement, they quickly progress to more daring shapes on their own.
Some times we have a group where a few individuals who identify themselves primarily or exclusively as bases assume that they have complete control over the partnered poses. (We discuss the dangers and limitations of this kind of thinking in our article Finding the Yoga in Acroyoga.) This is a good game for introducing the conversations around co-balance, shared responsibility, listening to your flyer, and flyer-driven stability. When we sense frustrations in this area rising up, we might stop the class or workshop, play this game, and then open the conversation with a question like, "What makes for a sensitive base?"
Conversely, we sometimes have groups with flyers, usually petite flyers, who assume that a larger base should be able to hold them up no matter what kind of shenanigens they are throwing around, aka, Wiggley-flyer syndrome. We might stop the class, play this game, and then open a discussion with the question, "What makes for a sensitive flyer?"
There could be a clear trajectory, a starting point and ending point, which could be safer, especially if you have limited space.
If space is not an issue or if you want to add an extra element of spatial awareness, you could leave direction unaddressed and then the game goes in all directions.
It is nice to add a cue like, "Go as slow as you possibly can." This game is MORE difficult slow and helps draw the focus to weight shifting and contact points between bodies.
Instructions for Play:
In groups of three people, define a base, flyer and spotter WITHOUT SPEAKING OR DISCUSSING!
Again, WITHOUT DISCUSSION, mount into a pose and begin to flow from pose to pose.
There is no real instruction here, except to keep flowing until the leader ends the jam and DON'T SPEAK for the entire jam.
At the leader's signal, switch roles and begin again. Play until everyone has performed every role.
When and With Whom
Probably not a game for complete beginners unless there is an experienced spotter involved or 2 of the 3 partners have some experience.
A great game when the energy of the group is getting too high, too loud, etc.
We like this game if there is a particular group or couple that is talking more than moving. Sometimes partners fall into the trap of over-thinking, over-analysing, and over-complicating new material. This game brings us back to the body and to the movement.
We also like this game for a group that is getting frustrated with new or difficult material. A silent jam gives everyone permission to keep it simple, go back to basics, and just fly.
We have played this in a beginner's workshop with the limitation that they use only the poses we learned that day. We would teach leaf, bird, throne, whale, iron cross, foot to shin... or some sequence that a beginner can easily put together in multiple incarnations. Two spotters is never a bad idea with beginners.
For an intermediate class that meets regularly or is following a multi-week cirriculum, this is a nice post warm-up, beginning of class review: place the limitation that they Silent Jam with the previous week's material.
For a more advanced group, place no limitations on the poses nor transitions, just ask them to jam without speaking.
It takes an incredible amount of bodily listening to place this game, so it is nice to play it before a conversation about listening, sensitivity, leadership, negotiation, etc. We might play and then open a discussion with questions like, "Are you more comfortable leading or following? Are you uncomfortable waiting? How did you and your partners negotiate switching leader and followers? Was there ever a time you didn't know if you were leading or following?"
Credit: We did our first silent jam in our teacher training with Acroyoga Montreal. Jill Campbell led us.
We need tools to help us recognize and verbalize the intensity and quality of the energy we are sending and receiving.
Follow the Point
Instructions for Play:
In groups of two, partners connect their bodies in some way. It is a light touch and just one point of contact. For example, elbow to elbow, knee to back of the hand, etc. They imagine that there is a small marble between their two bodies and they need to use just enough pressure to keep it there without falling, but not so much pressure that the marble pops out and rolls away. Light touch but confident touch.
Without speaking, both partners begin to move, "allowing" the marble to roll around. The marble can trace over any part of the body that the partners allow and the marble stays in constant motion.
When and With Whom:
This is a game we borrowed from contact improvisation. It is an excellent way to build sensitivity to pressure, touch, and proprioception. The image of the marble is the best cue we have found, but other cues could work, too. The rolling action of the marble lends a very fluid quality to this game.
We use this game as a tool to guide refinement and to open discussions around QUALITY of movement. Once a group has the basics of the movement we are using, whether it is acroyoga, movement, or dance, we use this game to explain the kind of light, confident touch we want to use with our partners. Not gripping, squeezing, nor forcing the, but stating our intentions and needs clearly and calmly through touch.
It is super nice to give play with various partners and then reflect on how different people have different touch profiles. Without calling anyone out, you can ask, did you notice that some partners are more insistent, rushed, eager, relaxed, calm, shy, etc.? What can you tell about a person just from their touch?
It is also super nice to introduce a conversation about the energy we send and receive with our bodies. For example, with a group of teens, we might play this game and then discuss what to do if we read hesitation, frustration or confusion in our partners. Young people need tools to help them recognize and verbalize the intensity and quality of the energy they are sending and receiving. This is a good tool for that.
Instructions for Play:
In groups of two, Partner A closes her or his eyes and Partner B creates a shape with her or his body. This can be any shape, like a yoga pose, a gesture with meaning, or an abstract shape - any way of standing, squatting, lying, etc. that partner B can hold for around 3 minutes without moving or changing.
Now Partner A, with eyes still closed, explores Partner B's shape using only touch. Hands should roam over Partner B's shape enough to get a strong idea of how exactly Partner B is arranged.
Next, Partner A, with eyes STILL closed, recreates Partner B's shape.
Finally, Partner A opens eyes and the two partners compare their shapes. The object is for Partner A to recreate Partner B's shape as closely as possible, down to every detail, like how fingers are held, rotation of neck and angle of head, etc.
Switch roles and repeat the whole process.
When and With Whom:
An excellent way to get into the mindset of noticing the details of how our bodies are arranged, this game is really perfect for any level of acroyoga, a family yoga class, a creative movement group, etc.
An excellent way to start noticing how much information we can take in through touch.
This game is especially good for an acroyoga workshop where the participants are not regular yoga practitioners, because it heightens sensitivity and proprioceptive sense so well. One huge benefit of warming up proprioception is that, later on in the workshop, the instructor can use more question-based cuing to help guide the practitioner to use proprioception for self-correction, for example, "Can you feel where your feet are in relation to your hips? What happens if you try moving your feet so they are stacked more directly over your hips?"
Rather than groups of two, where one partner is creating a shape and the other is exploring and recreating, you can have groups of four, where two people create a partner shape (could be an acro shape, or it could be anything, as long as they are connected or touching somehow.) The other two partners explore and recreate as above AND they have to keep eyes closed throughout the exploration and recreation!
WARNING: this gets exponentially more difficult with more bodies! We had an uneven number of participants in one workshop and decided to make one group of six - three shape-builders and three explorers. It took sooooo long for that group to complete the task because there were so many variables with which to contend. We don't recommend groups larger than four people unless your group has played this game several times already OR you plan to spend an hour on just this task! It is a great cooperation exercise, but is definitely more difficult with more bodies.
It is good to have a couple of shepherds around - teaching assistants or others with their eyes open who are helping to guide the explorers and spot the recreations.
Credit: We first played the simple version of this game in a beginners' acroyoga class with Emil Sørensen in Denmark.
There will be a Quick Reference Guide to all of our games included as the final post in this Series on Games, so check there for an alphabetized list of all of our best games.
Whether we are leading a yoga, movement, Acroyoga or other type of class, and no matter the size or demographic of the group in front of us, games are useful tools. We would love to hear some feedback from you about how you use these and other games in your movement classes and experiences.
Which games do you love?
Which ones of your favorites did we leave out?
How have you adapted our ideas?