Pacing class effectively is an art form. The bottom-line of skillful pacing is simple: a vinyasa practice shouldn’t be too slow or too fast. Of course, managing this bottom line isn’t always easy. After all, someone’s too slow is someone else’s too fast and vice versa.
It’s best to think about pacing as another tool to communicate what you are teaching in any given class. If you are teaching a mellow, hip-opening class, you want the pace to be slow and soothing. On the other hand, if you’re teaching an invigorating sequence of standing poses, you may opt for a strong, steady pace. In both of these scenarios, you have to consider the experience you are looking to give your students and tailor the flow accordingly.
The following 3 considerations will help you pace your classes skillfully:
- Pace and momentum should facilitate—not detract—from awareness
Imagine that you have just arrived in a foreign city and you’ve decided to do a walking tour. But, well, you just want to get so much done on the walking tour that you run as fast as you can from scenic point to scenic point. Kudos to you, you completed the walking tour in record time (wow, what an accomplishment)! But, what did you notice about the scenic points? What did you notice about the sights, scents, and sounds? Did you notice any subtlety and detail or did you just get so much done? Of course, not. In fact, the whole notion of this is ridiculous. So, why would we sprint through our yoga practice? Is our practice just another thing that we’re trying to get done so that we can have a sense of accomplishment? If so, what exactly ARE we accomplishing?
In general, the pace of a vinyasa practice should be in direct proportion to a student’s ability to focus on the details that are present in their body, breath, and mind. This means that sprinting through a vinyasa practice to do 400 postures is unnecessary and ineffective because very little is understood in the process. That said, doing 6 poses in a 90-minute class isn’t the best solution either—at least not in a vinyasa-based practice. Other practices work this way to great effect, but this isn’t in keeping with the heart of vinyasa yoga. Practice observing your students as they glide from pose to pose and notice if they are moving with awareness and skill. Notice if the pace is helping them focus on their practice. If not, notice if are you lulling them to sleep or accidentally teaching a spinning class (not that there’s anything wrong with spinning). Find the middle ground that captivates your students’ attention and provides them with a strong, satisfactory experience without making them run on fumes.
- Pace your class like a bell-curve
It is helpful to imagine the pace of class as a bell-curve. You start class slowly and gently pick-up the tempo until it has a strong, yet sustainable tempo. Once you have hit the apex of your class, you can begin to slow down the pace and settle in. This doesn’t mean that the peak-pose or crescendo of class has to be paced intensely. In fact, you may decide to slow things considerably as you work the most difficult postures in your sequence. The important thing to take away is that pacing transitions should not be abrupt. Instead, students should be taken from a quiet beginning, through a substantial adventure and brought to a relaxing finish. The pacing along the way should accelerate and decelerate incrementally and in proportion to the intensity that you want to deliver in any given class.
- Keep with the theme of class
As previously stated, pace is one of several tools that you have at your disposal to communicate the essence of your teaching. Pacing is in the same tool-chest as sequencing, adjusting, demonstrating, verbalizing and so on. This means that the pace of your class should not be taken for granted or assumed. Instead, it should be a mindfully implemented instrument of your teaching. As such, your pace should be in-tune with your sequence and your teaching points of any given class. Of course, your pacing—like the other elements in your teaching tool-chest—is subjective and open to exploration.
Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.
Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.