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5-10 minutes


Primary / Junior / Intermediate




To help students develop the skills to notice how their body feels when they are tense and relaxed, and to learn how to relieve tensions and to self-regulate

Help students notice how they feel when they tense their muscles and when they relax them. For the practices below, discuss how each area of the body feels before the exercise, then discuss how it feels afterward. NOTE: if a student feels pain or discomfort, invite them to sit and pay attention to their breath instead. 

  • Push your shoulders up to your ears (as if you were hiding inside a turtle shell).
  • Hold this for the count of one-two-three.
  • Now relax your shoulders slowly for the count of one-two-three.
  • Repeat.
  • Squeeze your hands together into fists (as if you were squeezing lemons).
  • Hold this for the count of one-two-three.
  • Now relax your hands slowly for the count of one-two-three.
  • Repeat.
Stomach/ fence
  • Squeeze your stomach in as if you were trying to squeeze through a fence.
  • Hold this for the count of one-two-three.
  • Now relax your stomach slowly for the count of one-two-three.
  • Repeat.
  • Push your feet down into the floor (as if you were squishing mud).
  • Hold this for the count of one-two-three.
  • Now relax your feet slowly for the count of one-two-three.
  • Repeat.
  • Students are seated in chairs and hold the edges of their seat.
  • First, push into the seat.
  • Then pull up against the seat.
  • Finally, drop hands down to sides.
  • Repeat.

Tense and relax - see instructions below

Tense and relax:

  1. Push your shoulders up towards your ears and hold
  2. Now let your shoulders go and relax
  3. Notice how it feels when your muscles are contracted vs. relaxed
  4. Let’s try again

See our social-emotional learning poster series for a tense and relax classroom poster.

  • Once this is an established practice in your classroom, you may choose to have students lead the activity.
  • You can add more body parts as students learn to isolate different areas.

Understanding the difference in how the body feels under tension and in a relaxed state is a helpful tool to identify and regulate emotions. When students have the opportunity to simulate what it feels like to relieve tension, they can become more mindful of their emotions, and learn to effectively self- regulate (Blair & Diamond, 2008; Klingbeil et al., 2017).

Blair, C., & Diamond, A. (2008). Biological processes in prevention and intervention: The promotion of self-regulation as a means of preventing school failure. Development and Psychopathology, 20(3), 899-911. doi:10.1017/S0954579408000436

Klingbeil, D. A., Renshaw, T. L., Willenbrink, J. B., Copek, R. A., Chan, K. T., Haddock, A., . . . Clifton, J. (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions with youth: A comprehensive meta-analysis of group-design studies. Journal of School Psychology, 63(Complete), 77-103. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2017.03.006

Understanding why and how we experience various emotions is honouring the connection between mind, body and spirit. As students practise ways to self-regulate, they become more fully alive.

(4h) A self-directed, responsible, lifelong learner who participates in leisure and fitness activities for a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

Problem solving and innovating: to explore the world through natural curiosity, in ways that engage the mind, the senses, and the body