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Alternative Title

Women's use of yoga to sustain recovery from an eating disorder

Publication Date


Document Type



School for Social Work


Yoga-Therapeutic use, Eating disorders-Treatment, Anorexia-Treatment, Eating disorders, Anorexia, Yoga, Treatment, Recovery maintenance


Eating Disorders (EDs) disproportionately afflict women and are one of the most lethal mental health conditions that practitioners in the field of social work and related mental health fields encounter. Equally alarming is that Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is the deadliest of all EDs. Despite this stark reality, the mental health field is struggling to find an efficacious means of intervening in the treatment and recovery maintenance of AN. Drawing from existing empirical and theoretical literature, this study examined the potential that the mind-body practice of yoga holds as a complementary therapeutic tool for women struggling with AN.

The design of this study was exploratory, qualitative and flexible in nature. In-depth interviews were conducted with a sample of 16 women who reported that they used yoga as part of their recovery maintenance. Findings revealed that participants found yoga to be an integral component of their recovery process by engendering feelings of empowerment, bodily connection and a solidified notion of ‘self.’ These findings were then examined through the salient Feminist and Winnicottian theoretical constructs that contextualized this study. From a feminist perspective the findings revealed that yoga may offer women with AN a healthier means of experiencing bodily empowerment while facilitating re-embodiment. When examined through Winnicott’s theory of object relations the findings indicated that yoga might engender a therapeutic sense of ‘holding’ and ‘transitional space’ in the lives of women with AN, thus, inciting the discovery of a ‘creative’ and ‘true self.’ It is also the only study to apply Feminist and Winnicottian theoretical constructs to an examination of how yoga can support essential intrapsychic capacities in women recovering from AN. While the study offers new ways to support AN recovery maintenance, it also has limitations which restrict its generalizability. These limitations, in addition to, the implications that its findings hold for social work theory and practice are discussed.




vii, 221 pages : color illustration. Ph.D. Dissertation-Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Ma., 2016. Includes bibliographical references (pages 168-172)