Put Your Back Into It (Gently) with Witold Fitz-Simon
by Biba Milioto for Yoga Sleuth
Witold Fitz-Simon is a devoted teacher in the Iyengar tradition, and his 11:30 AM class at Yogasana is pure proof of his dedication to this alignment-focused school of yoga.
It is a steamy 90 degree day, and he tells us that we’re going to slow our pace to focus on our lower and middle back, finding some space and freedom within those typically constricted regions. A question from a classmate about the exact location of the piriformis calls for a quick walk over to a skeleton, and a quick anatomy lesson ensues (it’s between your pelvis and your hip joint, attached to the front of your sacrum).
Sleuth loves that the skeleton always seems to be on hand—sometimes you really need to see something to understand it, and the quick chat doesn’t break our pace at all. We begin in a supported Savasana on our bellies, propped up with blankets below our foreheads, our hips, and our ankles. The relief this offers to our backs is palpable—sighs and quiet, contented breaths drift through the studio. I realize that even though Fitz-Simon is a strict alignment guru, he’s incredibly gentle (which is not true of every member of the Iyengar tribe).
Fitz-Simon began his training with a year of solo study at home with the seminal book, Light on Yoga. It’s obvious that, for him, yoga is indeed a solitary practice. We are encouraged to be extremely observant of our bodies, holding poses for several minutes at a time. Even though we are a group of 12, it feels very solitary because of the quiet, steady pace. Sleuth is struck by how little chatter and distraction there is in this super focused yoga chamber.
The studio is equipped with a wall of ropes, an integral part of the Iyengar school. The ropes provide support and the unique ability to use gravity and resistance of the wall to further your practice. With instruction from Fitz-Simon, we line up and use the ropes around our hips for Uttanasana and down dog. The stretch and release of the hamstrings and calves is heightened, and again—that lower and middle back focus is huge. We return to our mats and the difference in my back is measurable.
As we move on to an inversion practice of handstands and headstands, the focus remains on the back, which proves difficult and yields a more refined, upside-down experience. We’re instructed to keep our heads down throughout—for a total of about 10 minutes our heads are never above our hearts, which furthers the attention paid to the lower and middle back. Forward bends with the help of props encourages the softening in our backs.
Fitz-Simon’s instruction is gentle, yet very well informed—we are constantly guided with alignment instruction, yet it never seems daunting or over-reaching. The gentle pace illuminates the subtle nuances of each pose. By the time we reach our forward bends, just before Savasana, I’m aware of the ways that breath can truly reach into a problem area and infuse it with support.
For those who haven’t delved into an Iyengar practice, Fitz-Simon’s style seems to be the perfect entry point—his passion for it is beautifully displayed, and his teaching style is generous and informative.