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There is a great paradox when it comes to taking up sport or physical exercise. On the one hand, you'll almost certainly benefit from a wide raft of benefits: greater strength, stamina, lower stress, greater energy and weight loss. But on the other hand, that extra strain you put on your body can put you at risk of painful and debilitating injuries; injuries that can put you out of action for weeks, months or even years.

Case study: Preventing sports injuries with yoga

As a keen sportsman, 41-year-old Neill Boddington has had his fair share of sports injuries. “I’ve always loved football, cycling and running,” he explains, “but about 10 years ago, I tore the anterior cruciate ligament [ACL] in my knee requiring surgery.”

It was some months before Neill could go back to his fitness and exercise regime, albeit gingerly. “I was able to get back to running after the surgery, but I knew my knees and legs were more vulnerable to injury.” With this in mind, Neill reduced the time he spent running and instead focussed more on cycling. Now a keen road racer, Neill is currently training for a number of long-distance events in 2017, including a gruelling 55 Km duathlon (running and cycling).

Cycling and yoga

While long-distance cycling is much kinder to the knees than running, it’s certainly not without its own dangers. Neill explains how yoga lessons at Sweat Studios have made him much less prone to injury. “On a road bike your feet are clipped to the pedals and your body is in a fixed position for mile after mile, and during a time trial, your hips are bent at 90 degrees in a very aggressive position. This all puts tremendous stress and tension on your back, hips and legs. Since taking up hot yoga, I don’t feel that tightness in my back any more, the yoga takes all that tension away, and those longer rides are so much more comfortable.” As well as helping prevent injury, Neill notes how yoga has improved his performance on the bike. “Through stretching and strengthening, yoga makes all your muscles more productive. You don’t suffer any discomfort on the bike and you can put more power and speed into a race.”

Although now a keen advocate of yoga, Neill admits he was initially reluctant to give it a try. “It was my wife who first suggested I should give it a go. She had been going to Sweat Studios for some time and thought I could really benefit from it, but I really wasn’t interested at all. I thought it would be full of hippies humming, I just assumed I wouldn’t enjoy it or feel any benefit at all.” Eventually, after some persuasion, Neill reluctantly gave in and came for his first session.

“My memories of that first class was that it was hot, hard, but a lot more enjoyable that I thought it would be. It was a real eye opener. I was quite surprised how immobile I was when attempting some of the positions. Yoga makes you aware of your body and its limitations, I knew immediately which areas of my body were less flexible and lacked strength.”

“The class was really well run throughout, but I was initially in two minds whether to go back for another try.” Eventually, after giving it some thought, Neill recognised that yoga could be of great benefit to him. “I thought to myself, ‘this is needed’. I knew that sitting on a bike for hours on end was really putting my back at risk; any injury could be extremely painful and would take me out of action for ages. I saw yoga as making a wise investment: taking up yoga to prevent injury, rather than having to go through pain and expensive physiotherapy to heal an injury.”

How yoga can complement your fitness routine

Now a true yoga convert, Neill comes to the studio once or twice a week. He is aware of how regular practice benefits him in everyday life as well as enhancing his passion for cycling. “Anyone in an office-based job like me can easily suffer from tightness in the shoulders or back pain from sitting at a desk for long periods. Since starting yoga, my posture is much better, both sitting and standing. By being more aware of my muscles and anatomy, yoga encourages me to look after my body better.”

“The heat makes your muscles warmer and therefore more receptive. It’s like kneading a ball of putty, your muscles are more pliable in the heat, you can push your body that little bit further, for a little bit longer, for greater results.” He adds.

Neill currently manages health, fitness and wellbeing schemes for Northampton County Council and has now made weekly yoga classes available for the staff there. With that in mind, why does he recommend yoga to people looking to take up a sport or stay fit? “Practicing yoga will help to counter the potentially destructive and damaging effects of rigorous exercise, whether it’s swimming, jogging or playing badminton. By putting you in tune with your whole body, you are very aware of what your body can and can’t do. You automatically protect yourself from injury by being more aware of your limitations. The all-over flexibility, strengthening and toning yoga provides makes your body more productive: you have more speed, more stamina and more strength.”