Meiosis involves reciprocal exchange of genetic information between homologous chromosomes to generate new allelic combinations. In cereals, the distribution of genetic crossovers, cytologically visible as chiasmata, is skewed toward the distal regions of the chromosomes. However, many genes are known to lie within interstitial/proximal regions of low recombination, creating a limitation for breeders. We investigated the factors underlying the pattern of chiasma formation in barley (Hordeum vulgare) and show that chiasma distribution reflects polarization in the spatiotemporal initiation of recombination, chromosome pairing, and synapsis. Consequently, meiotic progression in distal chromosomal regions occurs in coordination with the chromatin cycles that are a conserved feature of the meiotic program. Recombination initiation in interstitial and proximal regions occurs later than distal events, is not coordinated with the cycles, and rarely progresses to form chiasmata. Early recombination initiation is spatially associated with early replicating, euchromatic DNA, which is predominately found in distal regions. We demonstrate that a modest temperature shift is sufficient to alter meiotic progression in relation to the chromosome cycles. The polarization of the meiotic processes is reduced and is accompanied by a shift in chiasma distribution with an increase in interstitial and proximal chiasmata, suggesting a potential route to modify recombination in cereals.