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Meditation has plenty of proven health benefits. One of the more surprising ones: It's fun.

Just ask Minneapolis yogi and podcaster Kelly Smith.

"We have it in our minds that you have to sit crisscross applesauce for at least 30 minutes and have your mantra," Smith said. "Your practice could be that if you want to, but it definitely doesn't have to be.

"If my crazy 2-year-old can do some of these things with me," she added, "it's really not that serious."

Smith, who hosts a popular podcast called Mindful in Minutes, shares ways to ease everyday struggles for both kids and parents — whether it's dealing with insomnia, building self-confidence or finding empathy — in a new book called "Meditation for the Modern Family: Over 100 Practices to Help Families Find Peace, Calm and Connection."

She also gives readers a little Meditation 101, sharing answers to FAQs, such as whether meditation is secular, even though it has roots in several religious practices.

"I just let people know that meditation is just single-pointed concentration," she said. "It's really just exercising your mind."

Here are four ways meditation can help the whole family:

Trouble falling asleep

For adults, just the promise of a better night's sleep can provide the motivation to meditate before bed.

"Studies tell us that a regular meditation practice in general can not only help you fall asleep faster, but also stay asleep longer and get more quality sleep," she said.

For little kids, Smith suggests meditations that use imagery. Here's one practice from her book:

"Have your child close their eyes and imagine a balloon in their mind (ask them what color it is). Have your child inhale for a count of 4, instructing them that they are 'preparing to blow up the balloon.' Then, have them exhale for a count of 7, instructing them to imagine that they are 'filling up the balloon.' Continue with this balloon imagery. Tell them that as the balloon gets bigger and bigger, they will get sleepier and sleepier."

Older kids or teens could try counting inhales and exhales (inhale and think 1, exhale and think 2, and so on) until they reach 50, then count back down to one, Smith suggests.


Meditation can help kids calm their sympathetic nervous system after waking up from a scary dream. It also can give them tools to help them feel safe, Smith said.

One practice she particularly likes is to have children imagine that they are surrounded by a special bubble that protects them when they are lying in bed.

"Nightmares can't get in, nothing scary can get in there. You are just creating this little protective sleep bubble that will be with them for the whole night," she said. "Once they've done it with you, you can tell them, 'If you wake up in the middle of the night, if you feel worried, just return to your bubble and make it bigger, make it stronger.' "


In her book, Smith outlines a few practices to deal with anxiety in the moment, such as naming one thing you hear, one thing you see, one thing you feel, one thing you smell and one thing you taste.

She also shares the science behind how a regular meditation practice can help with stress and anxiety overall.

"There's a part of our brain called the amygdala, and I describe it as the drama queen center of the brain in that it kicks off that fight-or-flight mechanism, which is how we then experience anxiety," she said. "Every time we see something that is upsetting, or a perceived threat, it activates the amygdala. So what happens over time and not only in adults, what happens in children, too, is that the amygdala tends to get bigger."

But as research by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar has shown, after about eight weeks of daily meditation, the amygdala begins to shrink, Smith said.

"We're actually rewiring our brains to not only have fewer anxiety responses, but when we have them, they're smaller. They're not as big and powerful," Smith said. "Mindfulness has a big impact on how our bodies perceive, register and react to anxiety."

For caregivers

Smith leaned into meditation — and got help from a therapist — when she experienced postpartum anxiety after her son was born. She shares some of her own parenting struggles when introducing many of the 100 different practices in "Meditation for the Modern Family."

She's hoping that sharing may help other caregivers, and especially mothers (whom she calls the "emotional glue" of the family) to feel less alone.

"I wanted to share some of the realness that I experienced in my first few years of motherhood," she said. "I think that it's very easy to feel like a 'bad mom,' or to feel like if you're feeling anything other than rainbows and sunshine and like, 'This is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done,' that there's something wrong with you," she said.