Yoga and knitting are two ancient practices both enjoying modern renaissance, and the two may share more characteristics than you think. Yoga has long been known to relax the body and mind and improve attention and mindfulness, but did you know knitting has the same benefits? Practiced knitters report slowed heart rate, more even breathing, and even a "timewarp" effect when one is so present in the moment that hours fly by and feel like moments. Michelle Dalbec, a lead trainer at the Kripalu School of Yoga says
"For me, knitting is one of the most powerful and effective meditation practices. Meditation and mindfulness are about paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, with a sense of curiosity and compassion. Knitting offers that perfect present-moment focal point."
Beginning knitters, don't worry if the idea of knitting being relaxing sounds bizarre to you. Starting to learn a craft can be frustrating and confusing at times but as you practice you will find that your work begins to flow and what was once difficult is now second nature to you. Just as there are hundreds of yoga asunas (positions) to learn there are hundreds of styles and stitches of knitting and crochet, so the learning journey is never over. Types of knitted stitches bear a functional resemblance to Yoga asunas in that both are patterns of movement that a practitioner learns and incorporates into their work until it can be done with mindfulness and ease. All knitters and yogis start simply repeating basic positions and stitches to build confidence and skill before learning the next pattern to build their repertoire.
Multiple studies and experiments support the health benefits of repetitive mindful motion. In a Princeton study by Barry Jacobs, animals moving their bodies in repetitive patterns was found to release serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer with beneficial effects on the body and the mind. Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response posits that repetitive actions like yoga and knitting produce a similar meditative relaxation state associated with reduced blood pressure, cortisol (a stress hormone) levels, and insomnia. Betsan Corkhill, founder of Stitchlinks, has devoted years to proving the positive impacts of knitting. As a physiotherapist and knitting therapist she coauthored a survey in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy called The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood: Findings from an International Survey where she found that 47% of respondents confirmed that knitting usually"" or "definitely" helped them process problems, 37% said it helped them forget problems, and 39% reported that it helped them to organize their thoughts. A majority of 61% felt that knitting helps them to concentrate. The science speaks for itself; knitting's meditative effect is very real!
Both practices are quite practical in addition to their mental benefit. Yoga helps to produce a healthier body and mind while knitting does the same but with an added bonus of producing your finished work. Both can be practiced anywhere you go to bring peace and meditation wherever you need them. A common struggle for many people looking to get into meditation is that it is difficult to keep the mind clear of thoughts without something external to focus on. For many people, keeping their hands busy makes knitting easier to focus on than standard meditation, making needlecrafts an accessible way to get into mindfulness.
So how can you bring mindfulness to your knitting or crochet? The keys are intention, attention, and attitude. Start with the intention to create both your projects and a space in your life for mindfulness. Get comfortable and let go of the chaotic thoughts of life. Give attention instead to your hands and the patterns you will create. Allow yourself to feel the weight of the needles and texture of your yarn and get lost in the rhythm of the craft. Adopt an attitude of acceptance of your pace in your work and in your life. Everything in your life has led to your current moment and wherever you are in life or your knitting is exactly where you are meant to be. Progress isn't always linear and proceeding with an attitude of acceptance allows you to appreciate your life and your work as they are now rather than as you might like them to be. When these keys align time drops away and many crafters experience the "flow" of mindful crafting.
Need some inspiration for mindful knitting? Here are some free patterns to get you started! These patterns feature repeating motifs for continuous flow in your work.