Some yoga instructions -- like "keep a neutral spine" or "soften your shoulders" -- are easy to understand. Others are not.
Diana Zotos Florio is a certified yoga instructor who readily admits things can get lost in translation. Below are three common, confusing phrases she and others use when teaching, along with what the heck they actually mean.
"Open your collarbone."
When a yoga instructor says this, he or she is trying to prevent you from slumping or rounding your shoulders. But be careful not to overcorrect.
"Often when students hear this cue, they overdo it by pulling their shoulders down and back way too much," Diana points out.
To avoid poor form and the risk of injury, Diana suggests practicing this technique briefly at home with a partner. "The trick is to have someone place their hands on your outer shoulders. You can press out into their hands to help widen your chest and draw your shoulder blades back. You'll feel the muscles of your upper chest open," she says. "Once you feel what this feels like, it will be easy for you to do this on your own."
"Rotate your muscle around the bone."
Depending on what position you're in, this might mean different things.
"For the leg, it means to turn the thigh bone outward," Diana explains. "When standing in a lunge [with your right leg forward], think about moving the inner thigh upward and the outer thigh downward, while keeping the big toe knuckle grounded and not allowing your pelvis to shift to the left."
If your arms are up in the air when your instructor utters this phrase, pay attention to your hands.
"Rotating the arm bones outward looks like turning the pinkies to face one another, as opposed to turning the pinkies outward," Diana says.
"Stay strong through the wrist."
Your instructor will most likely tell you to do this when you're on all fours with your hands on the yoga mat. As Diana explains, this instruction is to help prevent you from your wrists giving out while you're putting weight on them.
"You have to stay active through the hands and supported through the shoulders," she says.
Don't collapse your shoulders and don't over-arch, she cautions.
"Widen your fingers and stay active through your hands," Diana instructs. "You can support your shoulders by lifting your armpits off your arms... Stay neutral and supported."
Another cheat sheet for yoga beginners: