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Setting the Pace

Learning to pace a class is akin to finding your own voice as a teacher—it takes experience and hard work, but it's well worth the effort. Here's why.

By Jason Crandell

Respond to Your Students
If there is a universal curse for all yoga teachers, it is that you will come to class having already determined a general theme, sequence, and pace—you may even be certain that, all things considered, you have finally constructed the perfect class—only to find that it is totally inappropriate for the level of experience of students who attend. Remember that an excellent teacher learns to respond to his students. As you weave the theme, unfold the sequence, and set the pace, it is essential that you improvise. Observe what’s happening to your students during class and respond appropriately. If you are attached to the pace that you originally planned but your students appear bored or drop in droves into Child’s Pose, you aren’t making a connection with them.

Just as you balance speaking and listening in a good conversation, you can also learn to balance instructing and responding to your students. As the teacher, it’s your job to direct the pace through your instruction. Then you must listen to what your students’ bodies are saying and adjust that pace accordingly. Watch their eyes—are they dull, alert, tense? Listen to their breathing, observe whether or not they are rushing, and consider whether they are engaged. What is the language of your student’s bodies telling you about the pace, and how are you going to respond?

Connect with Your Setting
Because setting the pace is so subjective, permit yourself to experiment with different paces and observe the results, both in your own practice and in your teaching. As you engage in this experimentation, there are several concrete factors that you should consider.

Temperature: When you walk into the yoga room prior to class, observe its temperature. If the room feels like an icebox, it is probably best to skip that slow sequence of hip openers and supine poses you intended to begin with. Instead, you may want to end class with that sequence and begin with quickly paced sun salutations and standing poses. Alternately, if the room feels like equatorial Africa, it may be the perfect time for deep, slow movements rather than a rapid vinyasa practice.

Time of day: Be attentive to the time of day that you are teaching your class. While sun salutations may traditionally open early morning classes, it is often nice to begin with slow, simple movement and build the pace into a firmer rhythm. Similarly, evening classes are often best if a class begins strongly and slowly winds down into a serene, quiet pace.

Time of year: You may even choose to consider the time of year and the weather while setting your pace. How should winter’s pace differ from summer’s pace? How do people generally feel on a sunny spring morning versus a rainy autumn evening, and how can yoga practice bolster or transform that energy? These elements don’t need to dictate the pace of the class, but they are useful to consider.

Consistency: As you teach your class—guided by your intentions, the students’ experience, and the room’s conditions—be sure that from beginning to end, the class has a steady, consistent pace. The body is most soothed and the mind most engaged if they move evenly and rhythmically, without any harsh transitions. This doesn’t mean that you can’t vary your tempo or stop class to demonstrate poses. Indeed, these are essential elements of any class. However, transitions in class, as in well-written prose, should be well-placed, conscious, and smooth. When stopping to demonstrate, be concise and return to your original pace.

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