Distribute a small bean-bag or other soft item to each person in your group.
Instruct each person to place the bean-bag on top of their open, flat palm.
Challenge each person to move the bean bag, while in their hands, around their bodies and over their heads, without dropping the bag.
No grasping of the bag is permitted.
Allow several minutes of practice to allow time for people to perfect their balancing skills.
Video Transcript for Tea Cup Stretch presented by Nate Folan
And if you could take maybe your right hand. Put your palm up just like this, and envision yourself with a teacup right on that palm, hot tea, cold tea, whatever it is, just kind of envision it there.
What we’re going to do is take a minute to stretch by moving our teacup around but hopefully not dumping it.
What I should do is take that cup and start to keep it upright, keeping your hand upright, bring it out and around your head, trying again to keep your hand as flat or as level as possible, tune in to your back, it’s going to spin under your arm, keep coming around.
You might smile at your success or whatever it was for you. Go around again. You might even reverse the flow or the direction. Yeah. Nice. Sounds are more than welcome.
(people practicing Tea Cup Stretch)
Remember to switch sides. You might take your left hand and also bring that around.
(people practicing Tea Cup Stretch)
If you really want to try it for real you might even grab an object from the ground and see what truly happens as you go.
(It’ll make me accountable, though.)
Yeah, well, there is that, right?
(people practicing Team Cup Stretch)
Nice. Feel free to try both hands at the same time as well.
(people practicing Team Cup Stretch…)
How To Play Narrative
This is one of those curiously fun exercises that most people need to try several times before they get it ‘right.’
With your group gathered in front of you, ask them grab a small bean-bag (or other small soft item), and then find a space to stand with some room to move, away from other people.
Watching your demonstration, place your right hand, palm facing up in front of you, and place the bean-bag on top. Ask everyone to mimic your set-up.
Next, explain that you would like everyone to move their out-stretched hand in a manner that will allow the bean-bag to travel over their heads and around their bodies – but without dropping the bean-bag.
At this point, you demonstrate a well-practiced, fluid movement of the bean-bag around and over your body.
Ask your group to imagine that you are holding a cup of tea on your hand, and must move like this to avoid spilling a drop.
Allow several minutes for many attempts, encouraging your group to continuously improve the balance of the bean-bag as more and more difficult twists and turns are negotiated. Announce that you are looking for the smoothest movements possible to prime their competitive juices.
With some light and fun stretching out of the way, your group is now ready to move on. Or, try one of the fun ideas suggested in the Variations tab below.
Practical Leadership Tips
Does it matter that some folks kind of cheat the angles of their hands to successfully navigate their bean bag? Absolutely not – the key here is the attempt, and any attempt is likely to involve some form of stretch (not to mention, fun.)
The funner you make this tea cup exercise, the more your group will get into it and really stretch the boundaries of what is possible. ‘Failures’ should be encouraged, because it means people are pushing the limits of what is possible.
You could integrate Tea Cup Stretch as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying a fun stretch.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus and effort required to successfully guide the object over and around one’s body may provide you with an opportunity to explore accountability (and integrity.) For example, you could invite each person to truthfully account for how much their hand was flat, balanced and/or held onto the object as they engaged in the stretch, and importantly, relate this to the potential impact on the group’s behavioural norms.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Tea Cup Stretch could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Sequenced Challenge: Present a series of challenges which gradually increase in difficulty. For example:
– All people to grasp their bean-bag to prevent it from dropping.
– Allow one finger on the bean-bag to prevent it from dropping.
– No grasping the bean-bag at all.
Empty Plate: As above, but without the bean bag, as if holding a plate of food. And, then, introduce the bean-bags.
Anything Goes: Invite your group to try another easily-accessible item to balance on their palms, eg a paper cup of water.
Less-Dominant: Use one’s less-dominant hand.
Ultimate Challenge: Distribute a paper plate and a small ball such as a marble or golf ball. The challenge is the same – rest the plate on top of your open, flat palm, place the ball inside the plate, and attempt to move these items without spilling them.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Individuals can be invited to perform this exercise easily in front of their camera. If possible, ask each participant to set themselves up in a space where it is possible for others to view at least their upper torso to watch the hilarious contortions.
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Useful Framing Ideas
This is an exercise that the ancient Zen Masters practiced for many years. It requires great skill, concentration and balance to perform. The Zen Masters could do this exercise using a cup of water filled to the brim without spilling a drop. Let’s see how well we can do…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun stretching exercise:
Were you successful? How do you define your success?
Did you need to hold or grasp the ball to prevent it from falling?
Did you get better with practice?
What muscle groups are getting a work out in this exercise?
The inspiration for Tea Cup Stretch was sourced from Nate Folan, who first demonstrated this exercise to me in a training workshop.