We’re almost in a circle, so my suggestion is from here, form a circle and can I invite you now to hold the hands of each of your two partners. Most of you all just went like that now.
Okay, good job. And move the circle to a position and keep in the shade if you choose, push it out so that your arms are almost parallel to the ground, so we might want to move our way more than what you folks are. Okay, that’s about it.
You don’t want to stretch too far. You don’t want to have your arms pulled out of your sockets. Not too far, not too far, because you want to give yourself just a little bit of space.
Alright. Notice where your feet are. I’d like you to bring your feet together. Now you can move your feet, however, in a moment I’m going to ask you but not yet, to lean back.
The object here as we do it very slowly with a good grip is to effectively create what we call a Yurt. A Yurt, Nepalese term for basically self-supporting structure. It’s an engineering term, to Yurt.
So as we pull back, if you need to adjust your feet in, out, left, or right so that you feel supported by your neighbours as much as the rest of the group.
The object is as a group we get to that point where you almost you feel like you could be here forever, you’re in a comfortable position, although we don’t plan to be.
Okay. Got the idea? Alright. Make sure your grip is good. Alright.
(Good grip. Good grip.)
Start to lean slowly backwards. If you need to, move your feet.
(group attempting Yurt Circle)
Alright, come on back. Come on back and stand up. Alright. Let go for a second. Do this, alright, and reattach.
Now you know what’s about to happen… That’s fine. Sure. Sure. Is that good for you, Jack?
My ring… I’m going to take my ring… Is that okay? Alright. Alright. Remember you can move your feet to adjust. Your object is with your feet together to start leaning back and feeling that you’re being supported by the group. So is everyone good to go? Alright.
(What’s the worst thing that can happen?)
Alright, start to lean. I feel like I’m still going backwards. Oh, that’s it. I got it. You got it, Jack?
(group attempting Yurt Circle)
Start to lean. Alright. Stand up. Good job. Good job. Excellent.
So, do we have an even number?
Yes, including me. Let’s work this. Alright.
Oh, okay. So I’m going to pull out then from that perspective.
So if the two of you would like to now… You don’t have to hold hands just yet. Jack, you’re one, Nathan, you’re two, then we go one, two. Just go around and remember the number you say. So it’s one, two, one, two, one, two. So Jack.
Perfect. Okay. So I’ll need to step out for this exercise. In a moment you’re about to re-join. Go ahead and do that now. Okay, continue to stretch the point where you’re not pulling your arms out of your sockets but create a circle. Don’t start to lean just yet.
Okay, listen carefully to your next instruction. In a moment, but not yet, all of the ones are going to lean out, out of the circle, while the twos lean in.
So half of you are going to lean out, the other half are going to lean in. It’s the same thing. Adjust your feet as necessary. There should be enough support on left and right of you to support your weight accordingly.
Got the idea? So the ones are going to go out of the circle making the circle bigger, the twos are going to lean in. Everybody ready? Ones out, twos in, and go, slowly, slowly. Adjust your feet so that you can take the weight.
(group practicing Yurt Circle)
Alright, come on back to equilibrium and reverse. Two go out, one go in.
(Nice. I like this. It’s easier.)
Back to equilibrium. Return to the original. One out, two in.
(Slowly. Slowly. Yes, there we go.)
(people playing Yurt Circle)
And reverse it. Back to equilibrium. What are we up to now? Two out, one in. See how long you can hold it. It’s good lower back stretch. And bring it on back. Good job. Excellent.
How To Play Narrative
Ask your group to form a perfect circle, and then firmly grasp the hands or wrists of their neighbours.
A good, strong, yet comfortable grip is essential, because you may apply pressure to it for up to 30 seconds. Stretch the circle out, not quite to its limits, but certainly, all arms should be extended.
Now, with feet placed together and securely planted on the ground, instruct everyone to slowly and gently lean backwards. Suggest that it may be necessary to adjust the position of some people’s feet so that every person can support the weight not only of their immediate neighbours but that generated by the whole group.
A group will rarely achieve a balanced yurt-like structure right off the bat, but persevere because it may take a few goes (and a few collapses) before the group succeeds.
The ultimate is for most if not all the people of your group to experience a feeling of total support, ie as if they could ‘park’ in this position all day without effort.
No matter the size, shape or abilities of your group, this yurt or self-supporting structure is entirely possible. It just takes a little cooperation and an acceptance and willingness to embrace everyone’s differences. There could just be a lesson in there!
Practical Leadership Tips
If your group is struggling to manage a balanced position, even for a few seconds, suggest that everyone starts with their own feet slightly apart (to provide greater balance.)
Do not consider using clothing or other vulnerable items to be held between people, because they are bound to break and injuries could occur suddenly.
Maybe it would make sense to introduce what an actual yurt looks like, and how it is engineered before launching into this exercise. It may help your group understand what is expected of them.
You could integrate Yurt Circle 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 ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
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
The dynamics of this fun group stunt/initiative will invite your group to interact and engage with each other in a manner that would necessarily speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could focus on any less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see and commit to in the future.
For example, in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could invite your group to reflect on the following questions to explore a variety of full value behaviours such as:
How did the group demonstrate its ability to care for self and others?
What types of leadership were demonstrated during the exercise? Were they effective?
In what ways did you or the group need to adapt to achieve success? Provide examples.
Comment on the level of safety consciousness you observed or felt.
Regardless of how well your group performs a perfectly balanced yurt, invite them to reflect on what this task may teach them about setting effective goals. For example, the need for everyone to be involved and invested in the outcome, and the ability to trust and support others in equal measure.
Once again, here’s a wonderful adventure-based experience that will test your group’s resilience to get their balance just right. There will be a lot of adjustments and trial and error, all of which are teachable moments in the life of an individual learning how to become more resilient. Consider presenting the Yurt Circle as part of your resilience-building curriculum either in advance or at the end of the activity.
Multiple Yurts: Same exercise with small groups of four to ten people.
In & Out: With an even number of people, ask that every second person leans in on “GO” while every other person leans out of the circle. Once equilibrium is reached, ask that their positions are (slowly) swapped from their current stance.
Rope Yurt Circle: Tie the two ends of a very long kernmantle (dynamic) rope together to form a loop. Ask your group to place both of their hands on the rope in front of them, and then with their feet together lean back slowly and lower themselves to the ground, and back up again.
Fun group initiative to leverage trust & collaboration.
Fill The Space
Active energiser featuring lead & follow interactions.
Fun & active trust-building exercise for partners.
Useful Framing Ideas
Has anyone heard of the term ‘yurt’ before? Do you know what it means? [allow time for comments…] It has many uses, but in essence, it is an engineering term used to describe a self-supporting structure. They are often quite simple in construction, yet very strong because this engineering principle has been applied to its design. This next exercise will explore the mechanics of a yurt circle as applied to human beings…
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 fascinating whole-group stretching exercise:
To achieve a strong, fully supported balance, what did you need to do, or adjust?
How did it feel when you achieved this balance?
How might this exercise teach us some lessons about how successful relationships work?
The inspiration for Yurt Circle, and many more inventive group stretches, was sourced from the following publication: