Nonprofit provides trauma-sensitive yoga to Summit County inmates, Drug Court participants
Tall Mountain Wellness wants ‘people who would benefit from this program have the opportunity’
Jenn Armstrong-Solomon was someone who always had the “big job.” For 20 years she managed multiple restaurants and was always busy. During a period of reflection, though, Armstrong-Solomon came to realize her need to always be busy was a coping mechanism, a response to trauma from her early childhood and adolescence.
“On a suggestion from my therapist I went to a yoga class and was hooked pretty immediately,” she said. “Yoga opened a space for me to be curious, pause, mindfully move and notice body sensations stripped from the narrative of storytelling mind chatter.”
Yoga became a meaningful part of Armstrong-Solomon’s life, as she noticed improvements she said she knew were from yoga but didn’t understand why. She dove into studying the practice and in doing so discovered trauma-sensitive yoga about 10 years ago.
“From there I knew instantly that my path of yoga was forever changed,” she said. “Since then I’ve focused almost exclusively on practicing, studying and teaching this specific style.”
What is trauma-sensitive yoga
Now in its third year, Armstrong-Solomon’s trauma-sensitive yoga nonprofit, Tall Mountain Wellness, is focused on using all the limbs of yoga to lessen the suffering associated with trauma disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder and complex trauma. It’s different from what one would experience in a regular group yoga class, she said.
“Essentially, trauma is the inability of the body to return to homeostasis after an event,” she said. “Trauma is subjective. Something that causes long-term and post-traumatic event disorders in one person may not for another.
The more we learn about the brain/body connection the more we see the devastating long-term effects of trauma on our health.”
It’s a complicated thing to explain, but Armstrong-Solomon points to a quote by Viktor Frankl, the logotherapy founder and Holocaust survivor, as capturing it best.
“I’m paraphrasing, but it goes, ‘between stimulus and response there is a pause and in that pause is freedom,’” she said. “That’s essentially what we do. We find the pause. We try to hang out there. We work towards response instead of reaction.”
The effects of long-term trauma on the body have been linked to a litany of issues, such as certain kinds of cancer, fibromyalgia, migraines, blood pressure issues, heart disease, “as well as much higher rates of addiction, drug abuse and incarceration.”
“Then the next big question became, how do we get this practice to the populations that need it most,” she said.
Bringing it to those who need it
It’s that last part that led Armstrong-Solomon to partnerships with multiple organizations around Summit County. It began with a conversation between her and Roy Parker, director of the Summit County Recovery Foundation, a nonprofit created in 2013 to provide support to participants in the county’s Drug Court program. Parker introduced Armstrong-Solomon to Lt. Kacey Bates at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, and then to Christie Frey at the Drug Court, and both agreed to implement her program.
“From there it really took off,” Armstrong-Solomon said. “Currently I teach around 15 classes per week through the nonprofit, both small group and individual yoga therapy.”
The partnerships have continued to form, too. Tall Mountain Wellness now works with Peace House, the National Ability Center, the Children’s Justice Center, Encircle and the Park City Community Foundation. And all of the classes are offered free of charge to the participants.
“We want to ensure that as many people who would benefit from this program have the opportunity,” she said. “Even through the challenges of the last year services were provided to over 1,000 people.”
Partnering with the Recovery Foundation made sense to Armstrong-Solomon, she said, because many people who end up in the legal system really just need care and assistance, not punishment.
“We know thanks to wonderful research from the Center for Trauma and Embodiment and the Prison Yoga Project that participation in this style of yoga not only lessens the effects of trauma on the body, it also reduces recidivism rates among people experiencing addiction and incarceration,” Armstrong-Solomon said.
Parker said he met Armstrong-Solomon when she was pitching her practice to the people who oversee the Summit County Jail and sat in on the meeting.
“We listened to her aspirations and the jail administrators approved her program on the spot,” he said. “Jenn then began trauma-informed yoga classes in separate men’s and women’s classes. The student-inmates, many of whom suffer and were arrested due to addiction, became enamored with the program, the class and Jenn. Her presence and knowledge are inspiring, calming and magical. Student-inmates were enthralled by the class.”
Parker said Drug Court participants have been just as enthusiastic, even as COVID protocols have forced the classes to take place over video conference.
“Again, Jenn is so inspiring, calming and nurturing,” Parker said. “When COVID hit … Jenn continued both jail and Drug Court yoga classes, making the best of the circumstances imposed. In many ways, that is the allegory and metaphor of trauma-informed yoga, Jenn’s expertise.”
While Tall Mountain Wellness works with organizations like the Drug Court and the county jail, Armstrong-Solomon stressed that anyone and everyone can benefit from trauma-sensitive yoga.
“We all have junk. We all have stress,” she said. “Currently approximately 80% of the population attest to having experienced at least one traumatic event in their life, and about 14% of Americans will be diagnosed with PTSD this year. Who knows if that number would be higher with less stigma and overall better access to mental health services?”
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