A London native who moved to New York in 1985 to attend college, Witold Fitz-Simon’s globetrotting youth exposed him to worldly cultures and a hunger for the fast-paced, hard-hitting entertainment biz. But, the competitive, hostile environment proved toxic.
Seeking stress-relieving solace on the mat reawakened Fitz-Simon’s self-awareness and global spiritual connection. With a little prana kick in the Om! from Mom, he began teacher training in 2000. In December 2013, Fitz-Simon will graduate from the 1600 hour Alexander Technique teacher training at the American Center for the Alexander Technique. Stefani Jackenthal explored his journey.
Stefani Jackenthal: When and why did you start practicing yoga?
Witold Fitz-Simon: I started practicing yoga 20 years ago to counter the stress I was experiencing at work. At the time I was I was working behind the scenes in the casting business. First as an assistant at a talent agency representing actors and then as an associate casting director – all while trying to put my own projects together. I found the entertainment business to be extremely unkind, hostile. It caused me anxiety attacks, which literally resulted in losing my hair. I started yoga with meditation and had a sitting practice for about two years. I then discovered asana, following the writings of Eknath Easwaran. During my first Utthita Trikonasana, I was in excruciating pain from my chest to my feet and thought, “I need to do more of this.” I was hooked.
SJ: Did anyone in your family practice yoga when you were growing up?
WF-S: Not at all. We traveled a lot when I was kid. We visited India when I was very young and lived in Brazil for about five years when I was in grade school, so I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and spiritual traditions. I was raised Catholic but we were surrounded by Macumba and Candomble, the African-based Brazilian religions in Sao Paolo. So, yoga and Hinduism didn’t seem all that strange to me when I was first introduced to them.
SJ: When did you decide pursue yoga teacher training?
WF-S: I had been harboring a secret dream to become a yoga teacher for years before I did anything about it. I remember being adjusted in a twist by Katchie Ananda, when Jivamukti was on Second Avenue and thinking being a yoga teacher was one job when they weren’t yelling at you all day – the way they did at my talent agency. I poured over Jivamukti Teacher Training literature, but couldn’t figure out how I could make it work. I couldn’t afford it on my assistant’s salary and was dependent on work visas at that time, so had to keep my job to stay in the country.
SJ: What inspired you to start teaching yoga full time in 2000?
WF-S: My father passed away two years earlier and he was my writing partner. I was trying to sell a few projects that didn’t pan out and I needed to gear up and figure out what to do next. My heart just wasn’t in it. My mother suggested I try a teacher training as I loved yoga so much. I got a credit card and charged the tuition, took a leave from my job (I had a green card by then) and went to the Yogaville Ashram in Virginia for the Integral Yoga teacher training. I wanted to have a yoga adventure – to try to teach and have the chance to fail in a safe, out-of-the way place. I came back to NYC and started teaching immediately at Integral Yoga Institute on 13th street. I taught 18 classes in my first two weeks back.
SJ: Your Mom and Dad, Barbara Hulancki & Stephen Fitz-Simon, had terrific success with Biba, an iconic London-based fashion entity. Were they role models for you to follow your dreams?
WF-S: My parents are a huge influence on me, as role models to seek inspiration and follow it with tenacity. They are examples that you have to have complete commitment to what you love to realize it. They have given me the courage to think for myself, to never stop learning and being creative.
SJ: What are three of your favorite things about teaching yoga?
WF-S:• Being able to communicate ideas to my students.• Being able to create an environment in which they can explore safely and learn something new about themselves.• Being able to excite and empower them to continue to explore on their own.
SJ: What’s your motto?
WF-S: I never consciously adopted a motto, but it seems to be: “Have a go, see what happens.” I find myself saying it all the time in class, usually after I’ve demonstrated a challenging pose, a strange prop set-up or a new idea.