Wigan pensioner's life with Parkinson's transformed by yoga

Maria Williams (right) with yoga instructor Clare Lee
Maria Williams (right) with yoga instructor Clare Lee

A remarkable Wigan pensioner is using yoga to transform her life after receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

Maria Williams, from Ashton, was practically bedridden and could barely sit up without a wall or cushion supporting her due to the devastating neurological condition when she got in touch with Clare Lee from the Yoga Barre studio.

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Teacher Clare began to visit Maria, 70, at her home in November 2017 and since then has seen some remarkable improvements in her overall level of fitness and wellbeing.

She started out doing yoga in a chair but within a few months was seated on a yoga mat and can now go through the full range of poses Clare teaches her beginners’ classes at her studio.

Maria said: “I became obsessed with disability, at one point spending lots of time going around the Millercare shop like people go around Marks and Spencer.

“I had to get out of that way of thinking and look for ways I could manage my condition.

“When Clare arrived on her first home visit I could not sit up properly and I needed a wall to lean against and to be propped up by cushions.

“Now, with Clare’s help, I am much stronger, more mobile and happier in myself.

“I have reduced my weight, curbed my love of chocolate bars alongside my exercise and my doctor is really pleased with my progress, as am I.”

Maria, who is a former primary school teacher, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010 but suspects she had it for several years before that as she began dragging her right leg in a particular way while out walking her dog Meg.

She was put in touch with Clare by one of her carers who is herself a Yoga Barre pupil.

Maria spoke highly of the variety of treatments she has had in Wigan and Leigh, including physiotherapy at Platt Bridge and assistance from occupational health therapist Ruth Harter.

She said: “My father had Parkinson’s Disease before me and he had a book with all the likely symptoms people with it could expect, so it was not too long before I could see similarities in me.

“My GP referred me to a consultant neurologist who injected a dye into my brain which confirmed my suspected prognosis.

“I was started on medication which was wonderful for six months but as my condition deteriorated I built up a tolerance so a new combination had to be tried.

“I am now on a combination medicine which is working well, with reviews at Salford Royal Hospital when required.”

Clare says yoga can help people with Parkinson’s as it increases flexibility, improves posture, loosens tight and painful muscles, builds or rebuilds confidence and therefore enhances quality of life.

Maria’s lessons begin with her and Clare seated in chairs with quiet, soothing music playing to concentrate the mind and focus on breathing.

Maria is then able to get on to her yoga mat and is assisted by a couple of blocks when doing certain poses.

Her repertoire of poses now includes the mountain, upward salute, standing forward bend, tree, locust, reclining bound angle and pyramid, some of which involve her standing upright unaided, being seated cross-legged on the floor and bending over using her hands and feet to support herself.

Clare said: “Maria contacted me personally after one of her carers, who comes to my class, asked if I would be interested in helping her.

“We got on straight away and started with weekly chair yoga as well as some basic movements.

“After four months I just surprised her one day by saying: ‘Let’s get out off this chair and onto your mat...and we’ve just progressed from there .”