As I read the obituary, “Jennifer Wyman-Varano of Olympia lost her battle with depression on Thursday, June 2, 2011….” I became choked-up with tears. Jennifer practiced yoga with me regularly for over 2 years. When she retired from her public school teacher position this fall and stopped attending classes, I assumed that she was off to her place in Southern California for the winter. I have been energetically hitting myself over the head for not calling her and checking in. I continue to think about her and miss her tremendous light in class. My classes at the valley were big and there were so many people’s lives to keep track of. This has been a big lesson: I want to teach smaller classes and focus more on each individual. When the kula (yoga family) is about quality versus quantity, I believe it can be a safety net for all of us.
Depression runs rampant in our society. It’s like the weeds in the garden: always pressing on no matter how often you attend to them and always meddling with the robust life of the fruit/flower/vegetable. Some soil is really fertile and much more prone to weeds. Some of us carry so much light and because we live in a world of balance – those same light bearers are often burdened with heavy darkness. It is time again to bring the darkness into the light.
Most of us were taught to hide our sadness and only express happiness. Apparently, Jennifer was a master – in public. It seems that when she felt depressed, she isolated herself as though she was sick with the flu. She set-aside or dropped the things that would have helped her feel better, like yoga and being with community. Because she seemed like such a happy and upbeat person to everyone she met, when Jennifer disappeared from our lives last fall many of us assumed that she was simply enjoying a sunny retirement.
A dear friend of Jennifer’s mentioned to me that depression is commonly shunned in our society – as though it’s not a real problem. We lamented on how in the 1980’s, when AIDS was a new issue, it was a freaky thing that many people assumed only afflicted intravenous drug users and gay men. As time passed, society became educated and the common perception shifted. I hope to help shift the perception of depression. If society accepts that it’s real and common, perhaps people will feel liberated to search for assistance until they find the proper help. What we resist persists.
When teaching yoga (especially small groups of people) and giving Thai yoga therapy, I have witnessed a lot of stuff come up for people over the years. I feel blessed when someone feels comfortable to share their process with me. I do my best to hold a space and use the wisdom that comes to me to help. I have managed my own depression and helped many people with it. It’s a real challenge to be human: part divine, part ego – all in the body. The yogis wrote about the Kosha system which Wikipedia says “…in Yogic philosophy, the nature of being human encompasses physical and psychological aspects that function as one holistic system. The Kosha system refers to these different aspects as layers of subjective experience. Layers range from the dense physical body to the more subtle levels of emotions, mind and spirit. Psychology refers to the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of our being. Together, all aspects make up our subjective experience of being alive.”
In other words, some of us are more prone towards misalignment in the Koshas which can create all sorts of ailments such as depression. Yoga is a tool to help manage depression and Jennifer knew that. Many of us remember long, heart centered conversations with her before and after classes. For years, Jennifer allowed yoga to feed her light and it was evident in her beautiful practice. When the Valley asked me to help find a new yoga teacher, Jennifer immediately came to mind because she was a great teacher for me.
The day after I learned of Jennifer’s death, I was listening on the phone to a live interview with one of my teachers, Ana Forrest. She is painfully blunt and speaks 100% truth with no fluff included. The interviewer was at a loss for words and after a few minutes opened the call up to questions from the audience. I was puzzled with how to cope with the grief I felt around Jennifer’s suicide and thought I would see if I could get Ana’s thoughts. Serendipitously, my call was immediately answered and the rest of the interview was spent on this situation.
The first thing that Ana said was “Yes, people die. The longer you teach, the more students you’ll have that will die. That’s life. However, this death sounds particularly challenging and in order to promote healing on all ends, have a ceremony for her.” I took her advice and since then, I’ve been in search of the right opportunity to honor her spirit and therefore my own because we are all connected.
On August 10, 2011, Eric Romano and I will be guiding people through a noon time garden yoga class in honor and memory of Jennifer Varano. Jennifer was a regular attendee to Eric’s garden yoga – it’s a sweet and gentle class that is appropriate for just about everyone who can sit down and stand up. Feel free to contact me with any questions. For the address, scroll to the top of this blog. Please come and practice yoga in her memory. This class is on a contribution basis and we are donating all proceeds to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Lacey.
Jennifer was a great teacher in life and in passing. I was blessed to know her and learned a lot from her. I learned that even people I think have it all together, may not. I learned that we all suffer and although we’re not responsible to take on other people’s stuff, we must reach out and be there for each other….especially if the same person repeatedly pops into our head. I learned the power of community because I believe that her connections to it kept her with us as long as she was. I learned that one of my missions in this life is to talk about this issue and help lift the veil of darkness on this all too common affliction. Please join me. Namaste.