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Effect of Iyengar Yoga on Mental Health of Incarcerated Women

A Feasibility Study

Harner, Holly; Hanlon, Alexandra L.; Garfinkel, Marian

doi: 10.1097/NNR.0b013e3181f2e6ff

Background: Incarcerated women share a disproportionate burden of mental illness. Although psychotropic medications are available to women in prison, adjunctive treatment modalities, such as Iyengar yoga, may increase psychological well-being.

Objectives: The purposes of this study were (a) to address the feasibility of providing a gender-responsive exercise intervention within a correctional institution and (b) to observe the effect of a group-format Iyengar yoga program that met two sessions a week for 12 weeks on levels of depression symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and perceived stress among incarcerated women.

Methods: A repeated measures design, in which each participant served as her own control, was used. Participants completed three self-administered instruments: the Beck Depression Inventory, the Beck Anxiety Inventory, and the Perceived Stress Scale before treatment (baseline) and during treatment (Weeks 4, 8, and 12). Linear mixed effects models were used to examine statistically significant changes in mental health measures over time, taking advantage of all available data.

Results: Although 21 women initially participated in the intervention, 6 women completed the 12-week intervention. A significant linear decrease was demonstrated in symptoms of depression over time, with mean values changing from 24.90 at baseline to 5.67 at Week 12. There was a marginally significant decrease in anxiety over time (12.00 at baseline to 7.33 at Week 12) and a nonlinear change in stress over time, with decreases from baseline to Week 4 and subsequent increases to Week 12.

Discussion: Women who participated in this program experienced fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety over time. Findings from this study may be used to improve future interventions focusing on the health outcomes of incarcerated women.

Holly Harner, PhD, MPH, CRNP, WHCNP-BC, was Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Center for Health Equity Research, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and is currently Director of the Master of Public Health (MPH) Program in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, LaSalle University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Alexandra L. Hanlon, PhD, is Research Associate Professor of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Marian Garfinkel, EdD, is Adjunct Professor, Temple School of Medicine, and Medical Researcher, Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Accepted for publication July 15, 2010.

This research was supported by a research incentive grant from Boston College. The authors acknowledge the guidance of Iyengar yoga instructor Ms. Louise Colby and the research assistance from Angela Hou Liang, MSN, WHCNP-BC, and Meggie Gavin Galligan RN, BSN. The authors also thank the Center for Health Equity Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing for supporting the preparation of this manuscript.

Corresponding author: Holly Harner, PhD, MPH, CRNP, WHCNP-BC, School of Nursing and Health Sciences, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA, 19141-1199 (e-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.