I recently wrote about strategies for timing and pacing your group classes accurately. In a perfect world, these would work every time and you would never need to consider “damage control.” In our wonderfully imperfect reality, you’ll find yourself derailed from time to time.
So what do you do when you realize your timing is off?
In case you’re reading this thinking – well this doesn’t apply to me; I plan my classes and prepare enough that once I start teaching, I know my rhythm and trust my routine.
For you skeptics, here are some examples:
- A student might come in late and distract you or disrupt the flow of class
- You might need to spend extra time breaking down postures if you have a class including people newer to yoga in general
- A student might have a question, or an emergency that requires attention
- You might get nervous and talk/cue faster than you plan to (or slower!)
In sum, sh*t happens, and you can prepare yourself for it now, or panic in the moment. These are some of my preferred strategies for managing the two forms of time interference.
Scenario 1: Ending Too Soon/Needing to Fill Time
I’ve found that running through class too quickly is most common for new teachers. In developing our “voices” – and our general comfort levels in front of a room – many of us, as new teachers, move through class sequences more quickly than we plan to. Sometimes this stems from nerves – speaking faster than we intend to; other times it relates to a fear of pauses (which can, importantly, give students time to settle into a posture or connect to their minds, breaths, intentions); or it can just be a function of learning how to plan and sequence classes appropriately for your given class time.
My absolute number one suggestion to any teacher struggling with “extra” class time is to not conceptualize this issue as a need to “run out the clock.” More time means more opportunity to provide value to your students! Teaching yoga is such a gift – and extra time means more opportunities to share your well-earned knowledge and value with others.
The appropriate strategies for handling your extra time will depend on the type of class you are teaching.
If your class is intended to be an energetic/fast-paced class, you will not want to sacrifice these unintended 10, 15 (or sometimes even more!) extra minutes with postures that slow down your class too quickly.
Given a class that prioritizes movement, here’s what I’d suggest:
- Your students should be very warmed up by now. You can use this time to introduce more advanced postures (if you are comfortable doing so).
- You can also repeat part of class that you practiced earlier, but cue your students to pay attention to how their bodies might experience these postures differently now.
- A technique that combines the previous two might include revisiting a posture, but adding options for more advanced interpretations. As an example: half pigeon. Half pigeon has a lot of variations! You can guide students into a “mermaid” variation, bending one knee and possibly grasping the raised foot with a hand, or finding the elbow and reaching for a bind in your hands. You can also cue a spine-strengthening variation, inviting students to bring weight out of their hands, maybe floating their arms and using their spine strength to keep their upper body raised. Another go-to of mine involves cueing students to bring their front shin closer to parallel to the front of the mat. Most students bring their front foot to the hip crease in half pigeon – but guiding that foot forward helps to open the muscles necessary for hanumasana, or front splits. All of these are ways to level-up a pose you might have previously included in class, and fill your extra time with extra value.
If you are teaching a class that is more focused on meditation, or otherwise more slowly-paced, you can use your spare time in other valuable ways:
- Add a yin or restorative posture. Some of my favorites are supta baddha konasana, supported fish pose, supported bridge, or Figure-4. You can use the time they are in these postures to lead your students through breathwork, discuss the importance of balancing physical movement with awareness of the mind and breath, or any other guided meditation.
- Extra long savasana. Note: my characterization of “extra long” is completely subjective. You might teach a style of class that asks for a 2-minute savasana; others require 10+ minutes. Either way, by extending your usual savasana segment of class, you have the chance to bring guided meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or just extra time for the body to absorb the benefits of the preceding physical movement.
- You can also give a few minutes for “play time.” I love having the time in a class to tell students they can use a minute or two to find any movements, poses, or stretches their bodies feel like they need to complete their physical practice. Some students will move immediately to savasana, but others welcome the time to find their own physical expressions before their final resting pose.
- If you have the foresight to know that you might end too soon, there are strategies you can use throughout the earlier parts of your class.
- Add a child’s pose between any and all class segments! Child’s pose is an amazing posture you can do a lot with. Cue students to pay attention to different parts of their bodies in this pose – their feet, the back of their rib cages, the connections various parts of their bodies form with the earth. You can cue different arm variations – reaching the arms to one direction, then the other; bringing the arms down along the side of the body (where the hands are close to the hips for seashell or embryo pose); or bending the elbows and bringing the palms together for prayer pose behind the head for a nice tricep stretch.
- Add extra time to postures you might normally find movement in. Encourage students to close their eyes and fully inhabit downward facing dog, mountain pose, halfway lift from forward fold, etc. Take this time to add in some extra anatomical knowledge, breathwork, or meditation. You learned a LOT in your training – these are awesome, extra spaces to gift that knowledge to your students!
Scenario 2: Ending Late/Going Over Time
Going over time is a problem many teachers struggle with – both those who have just started, and those who have been teaching for many, many years. Some (though not all) students are very sensitive to classes not ending on time, either because they have busy schedules, or have strong feelings about their time being respected. As a teacher, you definitely do not want that very avoidable factor to be the reason that students leave a class unhappy.
Here are some strategies I’ve picked up along the way for offering a full, complete class, but being respectful of your students’ time:
If you start late:
- Let people know ahead of time! If your class is small enough that you feel comfortable giving this note, you might mention something like – “we’re starting a couple minutes late – is everyone ok if I keep you a couple minutes late?” The vast majority of the time, this question will not be met with resistance. But, students will appreciate that you’ve acknowledged that you both want to provide them with the duration of the class time they expected, and that you respect their time.
- If anyone indicates that they need to leave immediately when class was scheduled to end, make sure they are sitting close to the exit and let them know that you will take care of cleaning up their props so they can leave quickly and quietly.
If you realize during class that you will go over time:
- Similarly, give the class a heads-up! Be sure to tell the class you will let them know when the scheduled end of class time is approaching. You could say something like “We will probably be going about 10 minutes over class time. I will let you know when we are close to __ (the scheduled end of class), in case you need to leave.“
- If possible, it is best to move into a cool-down section of class before the scheduled class end time. This allows the students who need to leave to still transition safely from, depending on the style of your class, a more active portion to their post-class activities. Think about it like any other physical exercise – warm-ups and cool-downs are incredibly important for safety, recovery, and maximum benefits of your physical activity.
As with most aspects of teaching yoga, pacing and structuring classes becomes easier with time, practice, and experience. Managing extra or too little time in your classes with eventually feel less like a need for “damage control” and more like an opportunity to practice flexibility and adaptation as a teacher.
In the meantime, I hope these suggestions are helpful as you find the reactions and strategies that feel most natural to you.
Please share your thoughts and ideas with me below – and, as always, thank you for reading!