Sally Arnold wears many hats. She’s the owner of Schnoogs Cafe in the Timberhills Shopping Center in Sonora and the drive-thru in Standard, a registered nurse, has a Masters degree in psychology and most recently published her first book: “Paint a Double Rainbow: 40 Mindfulness Activities for Kids and Their Grown-Ups to Feel Calm, Focused, and Happy.”
“I just think that in this wobbly world, people are being filled with fear and they are feeling lost. Mindfulness will simply and easily help them decrease their fear, come home to themselves and feel happier,” Arnold said. “Who doesn’t want to feel happier?”
The book, published by Penguin Random House, is filled with activities and crafts for adults to complete with children, teaching them how to “self regulate, practice emotional intelligence, decrease stress, decrease anxiety and increase well being and happiness.”
Many of the activities are rooted in breathing exercises, which she described as a foundational tool to center someone amidst anxiety or ill-feelings.
In one activity, a child breathes in and thinks “I feel” and breathes out thinking “calm,” all while walking through a chalk-drawing labyrinth they drew on the sidewalk. In another, they blow their feelings into a bubble wand and watch it as it floats away and pops.
“I do feel this is how we change the world, one breath at a time,” Arnold said. “I believe, right now, this world needs this little book more than ever. Parents need support and tools and it’s 100 percent kid approved. I know these are their favorite things.”
Mindfulness is a neuroscience-based practice and education, “a way of showing up to this moment with curiosity, kindness and compassion,” she said.
It’s a way to prevent burnout, overcome stress and promote an overall mental well-being.
With children, she calls the practice stillness. With adults, meditation. She described it as a personal “check-in.” When they find the calmness of breath, they can reflect on their feelings inside and decrease the anxious chatter.
They become more mindful of how they listen, see and even eat. They also come to realize that every thought they have doesn't have to define them.
And many local schools are already familiar with her work: she most recently did six months at Sonora Elementary School, teaching nine classes a day for two days a week as a contract employee. She’s taught mindfulness in Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties, including at Jamestown Elementary School, Summerville Elementary School and Curtis Creek Elementary School. Next, she will be at Belleview Elementary School.
Her experiences and connections with the students “never fail to make her cry,” she said.
At Sonora Elementary School, she was working with first graders on an activity called “Still Chillin’,” where the kids practice how long they can sit breathing and without moving.
She was stunned to see the majority first graders doing the activity for more than 10 minutes.
“That’s unheard of for a first grader. They’re wiggly,” Arnold said. “But when they learn how to place their attention, it's soothing and it's very enjoyable for them.”
Five years ago, she was teaching at West Point Elementary School with a whole-school mindfulness program, teachers, children and parents. They had 60 detentions in March 2015, one year later, they were down to nine.
“That's the beauty of awareness and self regulation, having tools to support teachers and students with emotions, feelings and thoughts,” she said.
Arnold was teaching at West Point Elementary School and had a sixth grade student, diagnosed with various behavioral challenges. Over time, the student began to overcome those challenges with some of the very same strategies featured in the book. The student eventually gave a presentation to the board: how to find their breath and explained parts of the brain such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex.
“It was so cool to see this sweet child go from not being able to self regulate, to being able to self regulate and teaching the school board how they can self-regulate themselves,” she said.
Arnold was born in Massachusetts, but grew up on the Stanford University campus where her adopted father was dean of the law school. She entered the San Jose State nursing program and started her career at the Sanford children’s hospital. She moved to Sonora 32 years ago and worked in the birthing room of Sonora Regional Medical Center, where she had her first eureka moment on the connection between breathing and mindfulness.
While in graduate school, she came to the conclusion breathing was commensurate to happiness and a tool of resilience.
“We can overcome day-to-day fear consciousness. Fear is a story in our mind that may not have happened yet, so mindfulness is about staying in the moment,” she said.
Arnold has two children with her husband of 33 years and they have adopted two children.
“I’ve had a beautiful life and I was really blessed. So it was great to give that opportunity to other kids,” she said. “Early trauma is really challenging and I believe mindfulness has really helped me personally to navigate parenting in a more compassionate and connected way.”
“Paint a Double Rainbow” is her first published book and it became available on Tuesday. The book is available at Schnoogs Cafe, on Amazon and in stores. She said Penguin Random House reached out to her in October about writing the book.
“It’s been the most fun, all I want to do now is write books,” she said.
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @g_ricapito