PROFILE: Virginia Williamson

May 17, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY T MICHELE WALKER – While most mothers spent Mother’s Day being pampered, brunching and celebrating their one special day of the year, Virginia Williamson spent her Mother’s Day morning teaching a yoga class.

“I’m teaching a class on Sundays at the Banyan Tree Pilates & Yoga studio. I teach there on Sundays, a gentle restorative class, a class I’ve been teaching for years now and then I’m joining a group of ladies for a Mother’s Day brunch at the Boca Grande Club. Being a mother is one of my proudest accomplishments. I was an older mother, I was 37 when I had my first child and 42 when I had my second child. That was good, because I was more patient.  The fact that they turned out to be perfect is really my greatest accomplishment.”

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Virginia lived in the Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy area of Philadelphia where she began her career as a healthcare professional. It was through her work that she met her husband, Robert Brotman.  

“There was a community mental health center in Mount Airy, Pennsylvania. He was a psychiatrist there and I was a mental health worker and so that’s where we met and the rest is history,” Virginia said with a laugh. “We have two children together and he has six other children.” 

She continued.

“In my adult life, I lived over in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania and then got married to Robert. We eventually had two children who are grown now. One is a Lieutenant in the Navy and he’s stationed in San Diego. The other is an electrical engineer and he is working in Atlanta. During my married life I lived in Bala Cynwyd, and then my husband wanted to semi-retire. So that’s how we found our way to Port Charlotte. We used to vacation on Sanibel Island and so we’re familiar with the west coast of Florida. I wanted to be not too far from the beach and he had to be not too far from work, so we settled in Port Charlotte and we’ve been here now for 25 years.”

With her only wish to be close to the water, Virginia would take walks on the beach every morning after getting her children ready for school. “One was in elementary school one was in nursery school, so I would get them ready for school and then go to Englewood Beach.”

Then Virginia discovered Boca Grande.  

“When I found Boca Grande, I really felt at home. It felt energetically like Chestnut Hill, which was where I grew up. I connected immediately to the island and that was almost right away when we moved down.”

Virginia’s passion for yoga began as an adult and she has been a student of yoga for about 31 years. 

“My oldest son is 31 and I started in Pennsylvania at an adult school just before I got pregnant,” she explained. “I stopped during my pregnancy, but it was wonderful to discover yoga because I was not athletically inclined at all. I knew I needed exercise, so when I found yoga, I felt like it was a successful form of exercise for me.”

Finding a yoga studio in Florida was a top priority for Virginia. “I started taking yoga classes from an elderly woman. She was about 81 at the time, at the Port Charlotte Cultural Center. Eventually someone suggested to me that I should teach yoga. I started with a few people in Port Charlotte and then I got a call from the Boca Grande Club asking if I would consider teaching out there. That was about 20 years ago, so I’ve been teaching at the Boca Grande Club for a little over 20 years.”

Teaching yoga has been an integral part of Virginia’s life and she has received several certifications. 

“Once I decided that it would be a good idea to be certified to teach yoga, I went to a teacher in Sarasota,” she said. “I got really lucky with a competent and authentic teacher of yoga. Yoga has become a great source of connection with people. I’ve become close to quite a few of my students. We’ve become friends and that’s probably the greatest thing; the connection and the appreciation that we have for each other, as teachers and students and friends.”

Little did Virginia know how much her yoga practice would benefit her recovery during her recent hip replacement. 

“Who knows how the need for the hip replacement came about. It was arthritis, but how long it had been going on, the wear and tear of that joint, I don’t really know. I started having discomfort and got an x-ray. We saw how deteriorated the joint was and recognized the need for the procedure. It took me about two years to accept that I couldn’t fix it through yoga practice. When I accepted the fact, I was referred by the head of the Boca Grande Health Clinic where I’m a patient, to an orthopedic practice in Sarasota. I ended up having the left hip replaced.”

Virginia feels her yoga discipline is responsible for her quick recovery. 

“The yoga exercises, and exercise in general, but for me it was yoga exercise that helped to keep the muscles in pretty good condition so that they were in pretty good shape pre-surgery. And then post-surgery, I was not allowed to put any weight on my operated leg and side for six weeks. With the walker, I had to use upper body strength, and that was strong due to yoga.”

Yoga has not only been an important part of preparing Virginia for surgery, but for her recovery and rehabilitation. Virginia has already returned to teaching yoga.  

“Even before I was allowed to bear weight on that leg, I did chair yoga. Surprisingly, the majority of my students hung in there with chair yoga, even though everybody thinks they want more activity, more movement. There are other benefits you can get by being still and having the pelvis stable. The minute I was given permission to bear weight on that leg after six weeks, the progress was amazing and it feels very natural. I never did have any pain. I also had the help of my dearest friend who is an orthopedic surgeon, and he guided me through every step of the way. Then the yoga helped me to prepare and recover from surgery.”

While yoga is Virginia’s passion, she does make time for other hobbies such as walking, reading and even enjoys binge-watching thrillers on Netflix and Hulu. Yet, she stays busy with teaching yoga classes and continuing her own personal study of yoga philosophy. 

“There’s more to yoga than just the physical aspects. When most people hear the word yoga, they think of the tree pose or standing on one’s head, but there’s more to yoga than that. Yoga is a philosophy. When I discovered that during my certification process, I recognized it as psychological philosophy, which was exciting. That is what it means to me. It’s a great way to boost one’s immune system, it’s a great way to stay strong and flexible, but for me it’s a great way to stay somewhat sane.”

Virginia can be found teaching yoga every Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Boca Grande Club or Sundays through May at Banyan Tree Pilates & Yoga.  

“I teach a gentle restorative class on Sundays. That is a class that I’ve been teaching for years now and it’s very popular. You wouldn’t think that gentle restorative classes would be as popular as they’ve been, but they have. I’ve always had to limit the number of people coming in and there’s always a wait list.”

As the saying goes, “Teachers have three loves; love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.” 

Virginia Williamson is the embodiment of all three.