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Power of Yoga?

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For centuries, yoga has been used as a tool to relax and get in shape. Now, a new study finds that it can help women with breast cancer.

Dr. Mallika Marshall from WBZ-TV reported on The Saturday Early Show how one woman is discovering a new optimism that she hasn't felt since beginning her struggle with breast cancer.

Elizabeth Murray looks forward to Thursday mornings.

"Going to a yoga class is very calming," she said. "I seem to be an all-around better person now."

In addition, according to Murray, yoga helps her deal with anxiety and physical discomfort, plus it helps her heal from breast cancer.

New York researchers are trying to measure healing and quality of life in one of the nation's first federally-funded investigations of yoga's effect on cancer patients.

"The women in the yoga program have increased emotional well-being, better mood, less depression, less anxiety than the women in the control group," said Alyson Moadel of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

The results of the National Cancer Institute study are only preliminary findings, but the cancer community is already listening.

"In terms of physical well-being, we're finding that women who attend more yoga classes actually have better physical outcome in terms of side effects of treatment," said Moadel.

In the future, the researchers plan to examine the effects of yoga in more specific areas such as fatigue, memory and concentration. Studies will also examine the effect of yoga on other cancers.

Murray, meanwhile, can't imagine her future without yoga.

"I can't see stopping it," she said. "I use it many, many times - not just for trying to recover from the cancer surgery, but for my overall well-being."

The researchers also found breathing exercises, which are an integral part of yoga, were especially helpful for fighting the nausea many breast cancer patients experience.

Marshall said many women with breast cancer have limited mobility because of operations they may have had, such as a mastectomy or lumpectomy. The doctor who designed the yoga program (who happens to be from India and has practiced yoga his whole life) kept the immobility of the women in mind when designing the routine, so that the women wouldn't feel any discomfort.

The study consisted of 12 weeks of classes three times a week and daily home practice sessions guided by audiotapes. The tapes allow women to practice yoga on their own. But, Marshall said, taking a specialized class is recommended because it's very important that it be done right. Yoga can be very precise and if it's not done properly, it can cause injury.

Marshall said there are plans to expand the yoga study to other cancer patient groups, including people with gynecological cancer