2017 Movers & Shakers - Sunny Wight

Written by Keridwen Cornelius Category: People Issue: August 2017
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Mindful Citizen

At age 35, Sunny Wight’s body sounded an alarm. A rare form of shingles raged through her nerves; some days one side of her face didn’t function. She was debilitated by depression and fatigue. The cause? Stress.

A hard-working PR professional, Wight was a child of the ambition-crazed ’80s. “I was extremely conditioned that life was about achievement and was never really being true to myself,” says the England native. “Now I’m the opposite.”

Instead of taking medications, Wight healed herself purely through mindfulness. Now she’s on a mission to give people of all ages the same tools. In 2013, she founded Mindfulness First. The nonprofit offers adult classes and transformed Phoenix’s David Crockett Elementary School into Arizona’s first mindful school.

Crockett’s young students come from underprivileged, homeless or refugee families, and face unfathomable stresses. Yet after one year of mindfulness training, the suspension rate halved. Trust has blossomed so much that students request to speak with the principal. After one first-grader’s mother was sent to jail, the girl told the principal she was thankful mindfulness was helping her cope. “That’s why we give these skills to these children,” Wight says, “so in their most difficult times, it’s a tool they can pull out of their toolbox.”

Mindfulness First’s method is secular and simple – there’s no meditation or yoga involved. They teach children basic neuroscience so they can recognize the early sensations of stress and anger. They teach them to stop, use breathing to regulate their
nervous system, and notice what’s happening in the moment. This helps the children stay calm, think clearly and respond thoughtfully. Mindfulness is infused throughout the school, from the classroom to the lunchroom to the playground.

Soon, Wight plans to expand the program throughout the school district. She also wants to form a coalition of mindful educators, and persuade legislators to make mindful education standard in Arizona.

“Being of service to people is completely what drives me now,” Wight says. “It feels amazing to see the end result of what we do as an organization.”