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Group looks to reduce crime in Schenectady through meditation

Group looks to reduce crime in Schenectady through meditation

Schenectady Peace Week would be Aug. 20-27
Group looks to reduce crime in Schenectady through meditation
Yoga Bliss owner Marie Claire O'Connor discusses her business with John Samatulski in 2014.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

SCHENECTADY -- A local group is looking to potentially reduce crime through the power of meditation.

Volunteers with the Schenectady Peace Project, a chapter of the Global Peaceful Cities Project, presented the idea during a City Council meeting on Monday. It was pitched as a research study to see if a small group of people practicing coherence meditation at the same time could have an impact on violent crime in the city.

According to Bethany Gonyea, founder and director of Numinous, which sponsors the Global Peaceful Cities Project, said it can.

“There is data to suggest, and several peer reviewed journals, that when a relatively small group of people move a nervous system into a coherent space and send peaceful intention, there can be a positive change on the small geographic area,” Gonyea said. “Violence goes down and economic indicators go up.”

The idea is to get roughly 1,000 people in the city to participate in coherence meditation, which involves anchoring the mind with the heart to invoke good feelings, at least once a day over an 8-day period for 15 minutes in the city. This would be done at several locations around the city, but could also be done at home by signing up through PeacefulCities.org.

The group wants to host this week-long event Aug. 20-27 in what it is referring to as Schenectady Peace Week. They are currently trying to nail down specific locations where the group meditation can take place. 

Gonyea said that meditation can help treat stress and anxiety in individuals. It can help with improved decision-making and provide clarity.

This method of meditation is being used after the success of using transcendental meditation to reduce crime in Washington D.C. in 1993, according to Karin Reinhold, associate professor of mathematics and statistics at the University at Albany.

Reinhold said they want to do the same through coherence meditation. This would require getting at least 1 percent of the population in the city to meet the threshold of actually having an impact.

“If Transcendental Meditation works in reducing violence, let’s show that our coherence meditation also works,” Reinhold.

Since the city has a population of approximately 65,000 people, according to the United States Census Bureau, the group would need about 600 people to participate. But with Gonyea’s goal of getting 1,000 people to participate, Reinhold thinks it puts them in an even better position for success.

“If we have a thousand, we know for sure we would cross a threshold,” Reinhold said.

This experiment will be done to see if they are using the right number of people, Gonyea said, especially when it includes people meditating for the first time. She refers to that as the “dosage effect.”

“This is a science experiment,” Gonyea said. “We may need more.”

The process of training leaders for the experiment has been going on since last year. Mary Clare O’Connor, owner of Yoga Bliss on Erie Boulevard, said she was trained to become a leader last year. She had been hosting training sessions for leaders earlier this summer, and also has three more sessions: Thursday, Tuesday and Aug. 11.

O’Connor said she hopes that the program is successful because she thinks there already are a lot of good things happening in the city.

“If Schenectady grew this and suddenly crime did go down and there was more civility, it could change the perception and reality of life in Schenectady,” O’Connor said. “It would be great to appreciate the goodness that is already here.”

Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she fully supports the idea, adding she also practices meditation. She said she’s actually already met with the group one on one.

“For people to come together in an effort to find peace in themselves, let alone in a group, is nothing but net,” Perazzo said. “Wouldn’t it be interesting if the collective power of it moved the needle [on violent crime]? To me, there’s absolutely no downside to this.”

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