We all know how wonderful meditation is for us. Meditation isn’t about a lack of thoughts; but rather, not allowing our thoughts to control us. It’s a brain vacation of sorts, and can be very healing.
I have often pondered if other activities could be considered meditative more specifically knitting. Knitting therapy? Is there such a thing?
You will find me most evenings, knitting (or crocheting); as I find this activity extremely relaxing. I knit in the car (as a passenger), or while waiting for appointments, and can almost always be found with my project bag. To me, the activity of knitting is a way to express myself through patterns and colors. It is creative, satisfying, meditative, AND indeed healing. I even posed the question to a knitting group one time. “Do you think knitting could be seen as meditation or even a therapy of sorts?”
I was a tad surprised when a member of the group (Susan) said she had actually heard of a book about this very subject! I decided to search for myself.
My Knitting Story
I have a vague recollection of my paternal grand-mother teaching me to knit and purl when I was around eight. Though that didn’t stick, my knitting fervor was reignited during a summer spent at my other grandma’s house, by an aunt who was feverishly knitting clothes for a new baby: cute little rompers, sweaters, and baby booties. I was around twelve at this time.
Back in my hometown, I traveled the 300 yards to the nearest Phildar store. This place was a knitters dream! There were rows and rows of beautiful yarn, and two of the sweetest ladies; eager to help a newbie.
I left with knitting patterns, yarn, and needles. I was hooked. I spent most of my free time as a teen–not partying–but knitting. I wore my creations proudly. I even endowed my baby cousins with knitted gifts. No loved one was immune from my knitting. There was even a time when my parents worried a tad about me…”she doesn’t go out much.”
I was not a total hermit, or a social misfit. I had friends at school and was by no means unpopular, but I always felt that the term “friend” shouldn’t be used lightly. Only a few people in my life have truly deserved the name. I went to movies, talked to friends, but I was never into the party scene.
As a matter of fact, I am still friends with my two best-friends from school. One I met when I was twelve (Sylvie) and one in high-school (Sophie).
My search into “knitting as therapy” started by typing “knitting as meditation” into the Google search engine. I received 696,000 results. Not too shabby.
I was a little surprised to find out that knitting has already been studied by researchers. There was a paper published in the February 2013 issue of the British Journal of Occupational Therapy on this very subject called “The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood: Findings from an International Survey.”
The authors of the study did find a difference between knitters and non-knitters. Responses were received from 3,545 knitters worldwide. The data was quantified and analyzed statistically to establish relationships, differences among variables, and qualitative data.
The conclusion was that knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to wellbeing and quality of life. As a skilled and creative occupation, it has therapeutic potential – an area which requires further research.
One of the authors of the study, Betsan Corkhill, even published a book on the matter: “Knit for Health & Wellness: How to knit a flexible mind and more…”
Health Benefits of Knitting
These are the benefits of knitting according to the results of the survey mentioned above.
- Knitting benefits your patterns of movement: bilateral, coordinated, cross the midline, repetitive, rhythmic, and automatic
- Knitting provides an enriched environment:
- Creativity / Imagination
- Calm / Self Soothing
- Enjoyment of Solitude
- Mastery of a Skill
- Regular Novelty
- Reward / Success
- Fun / Play / Exploration
- Contribution / Giving
- Refocusing Attention
- Meaning / Purpose
- Visual Stimulation
- Tactile Stimulation
- Emotional Stimulation
- Knitting enriches social engagement:
- Easy Banter
- Raucous Laughter
- Fun / Play with Others
- Experiment / Explore
- Eye Contact…or Not
- Mutual Learning
- Giving / Sharing
Knitting Therapy: Other Studies
Another study, published in March of 2009, took a closer look at knitting and anorexia. It was named: “Managing anxiety in eating disorders with knitting.”
In this study, 38 women suffering from anorexia were taught to knit. At the end of the study, these women reported that learning this skill led to significant improvements: 74% of them said the activity lessened their fears and kept them from ruminating about their problem. This is very significant! The researcher concluded:
From a clinical perspective, knitting is inexpensive, easily learned, can continue during social interaction, and can provide a sense of accomplishment.
A study published in the Spring of 2011, showed that activities like knitting and crocheting could have enriched brain function as we age. The study called “Engaging in cognitive activities, aging, and mild cognitive impairment: a population-based study.” The authors investigated whether engaging in cognitive activities (such as knitting) is associated with aging and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). A random sample of 1,321 study participants ages 70 to 89 were interviewed about the frequency of cognitive activities carried out in late life (within 1 year of the date of interview). Computer activities; craft activities, such as knitting, quilting, etc.; playing games; and reading books
The researchers found that those who engaged cognitive activities such as crafting, knitting, crocheting, computer activities, playing games, and reading books were 30 to 50 percent less likely to have mild cognitive impairment than those who did not.
From a neurological standpoint, the reason why these activities improve or maintain cognitive function makes perfect sense. These creative activities engage different parts of the brain which not only stimulates neural connections but also keep these connections working quickly and efficiently.
Crafting, knitting, and other such activities engage the frontal lobe (which is associated with reasoning, planning, parts of speech, movement, emotions, and problem solving), the parietal lobe (is associated with movement, orientation, recognition, perception of stimuli, the occipital lobe (processes visual processing), the temporal lobe (which is involved with perception and recognition of auditory stimuli, memory, and speech) and the cerebellum (is associated with regulation and coordination of movement, posture, and balance).
Calling on all of these brain regions stimulates neural connections and keeps the connections working quickly and efficiently, Gutman says. The more we use these connections as we age, “the more they seem to stay intact and preserve our brain’s function and stave off illnesses such as dementia.”
Knitting Therapy: Conclusion
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, knitting has been shown to reduce the stress response, lower blood pressure, instill a sense of pride and self-esteem, etc. Clearly, knitting is good stuff and it can be considered a therapy of sorts.
My advice: keep calm and knit.
- Zen and the Art of Knitting: Exploring the Links Between Knitting, Spirituality, and Creativity
- Knit for Health & Wellness: How to knit a flexible mind and more…
- Compassionate Knitting: Finding Basic Goodness in the Work of Our Hands
- Mindful Knitting: Inviting Contemplative Practice to the Craft
Sources for Knitting Therapy:
- Therapeutic Knitting Manuscript
- Knitting Equation
- Managing anxiety in eating disorders with knitting
- Health Benefits of Knitting
- Engaging in cognitive activities, aging, and mild cognitive impairment: a population-based study
- The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood: Findings from an International Survey
- Might crafts such as knitting offer long-term health benefits?
- Brain structures and their functions
- This is your brain on crafting
- This is your brain on knitting