Mindfulness – A Solution To Violence (MASV)

The Mindfulness as a Solution to Violence program offers at risk youth a combination of evidence based Institute of Heartmath heart coherence biofeedback skills with  Alternatives to Violence (AVP) practices that were established in Green Haven Prison over 40 years ago and have continued to positively influence inmates in hundreds of prisons.  When inmates learn AVP skills it reduces their recidivism rates and helps offenders experience a peaceful re-entry into society.

Offering youth the opportunity to learn these skills before they become part of the juvenile system offers a huge advantage in shortening the violence cycle.  In the MASV program, youth are given an opportunity to pause in a safe environment, so they can slow down and reflect on their cognitive processes to consider more resourceful options for their lives.

Control is the central theme of violence as offenders often seek to sort out unfinished business and unresolved issues using violent control.  The Institute of Heartmath’s self-regulation practices offer safe powerful ways for youth to establish control within themselves without dominating others.  Remarkably, participants don’t simply just become less of a threat to those around them, these skills actually foster a space of resilience within them which enables them to significantly thrive and heal.  The psychological emotional effects of the ability to regulate one’s internal physiology takes them miles deeper into envisioning themselves as functioning at more productive levels in society.

We teach biofeedback skills through the use of Emwave instrumentation that provides heart rhythm feedback and training in real time to help kids shift to a positive emotional states in a moment!

Students learn how to move their nervous system from being dominated by the fight or flight response, which promotes swift impulsive behavior, to the pause and plan response, which activates the higher executive functioning portions of the brain needed for good decision making and control.  MASV is designed to teach basic brain based strategies to participants and empower them with knowledge about their own nervous system.

Participants learn why the emotion of anger brings their nervous system into a state that will make them more prone to make decisions which could fatally alter the trajectory of not only their own lives but the lives of others they love as well.

When students learn how to swiftly and efficiently move their nervous system toward peace, they gain access to resourceful behaviors that would have been eclipsed by the survival fight or flight response.  Biofeedback mindfulness skills have been proven to regulate anxiety, lift depression, curb insomnia, mitigate panic attacks, and reduce physical pain, which all contribute to violence.

Participants often report that for the first time, they feel as though they are now “in” their own bodies. They know where the “on”and off”  switch is for their anxiety and they are confident they can actually turn it “off.”  That is, they know how to lower autonomic arousal of the stress response at will.  They realize they are in the driver’s seat and have found the wheel, and once they hold the wheel, they don’t want to let it go. Empowerment is now within their grasp and they are unwilling to give it up.

While  self-regulation and AVP skills are not a total panacea; this training provides a required experiential learning step essential to making better life choices.

Our intention is to start a wave of peace in the Albany, NY started by and sustained by enlightened youth that will eventually be endorsed and promoted among youth as a reliable and enticing alternative to fear based violent culture.

Our intention is to train a group of at-risk youth to learn peace building practices, with an emphasis on heart-coherence and established Alternatives to Violence tools.  Alternatives to Violence Project conflict transformation programs offer experiential workshops to develop participants’ abilities to resolve conflicts without resorting to manipulation, coercion, or violence.  These workshops will place a strong emphasis on the experiences of the participants, building confidence that everyone contributes something of value to violence prevention. Our hope is that after a year, we would have trained a group of youth leaders who will then peer lead Alternative to Violence practices under adult supervision. Students will also learn about heart-coherence and how it facilitates good-decision making under high stress.

Mindfulness As A Solution To Violence Facilitators:

Bethany Gonyea, MS

For the past 22 years Bethany Gonyea has been teaching biofeedback and self-regulation skills to a wide range of populations, including young inmates at Brookwood Secure Center, a facility for juvenile offenders who, while under the age of 16, committed violent felonies and were convicted and sentenced in adult criminal court.  Brookwood Secure Center is the juvenile equivalent of a maximum security prison for adults.  Ms. Gonyea is the founder of the Albany Peace Project which was created to make self-regulation skills available to all residents in Albany,  NY.  She has also done some work for the Albany Police Department and is responsible for introducing and establishing comprehensive mindfulness programs in nine capital district public schools with more scheduled for the 2016-2017 school year.

Bernard Shuman

During his 22 years of service both in and out of prison, Bernard Shuman has spent thousands of hours volunteering his time to support others in turning away from crime, hatred, helplessness, and hopelessness, while urging them to turn toward faith, emotional healing, and offering assistance to others.  Mr. Shuman holds a Gold Certificate for teaching and facilitating Alternatives to Violence, the highest certification possible.  He also was trained to facilitate classes for Prisoners for AIDS Counseling and Education through Hudson Valley Community Service and ultimately enabled over 3,000 individuals to be tested for HIV infection.  Mr. Shuman has an quiet impressive unassuming presence that young people admire which is why they listen intently to what he has to say.

His motto: “Don’t make the mistakes that I made.”

Volunteers from The Albany Peace Project

Albany Peace Project volunteers trained biofeedback self-regulation practices are available to help with administrative tasks and teach biofeedback principles.