Three years ago, my sister and I were on a train back to the city from a visit with our father. His time was winding down. Our first parental passing; we were stunned. As we talked about this, my sister began to have an anxiety attack. I reached into my project bag and pulled out some yarn and needles. In moments, she was calmer. I think if I’d told her to take a deep breath and try to clear her mind, she might’ve socked me. The yarn and action of making stitches, though, gave her a tangible focus, and meditation happened naturally.
Researchers in the fields of physical and mental health are studying the effects of knitting and crochet, and they’re proving what knitters have known for ages: weaving with two sticks (or a hook) and a string is calming for mind and body. Knitting lowers blood pressure, can help alleviate depression and stress, and it’s been compared to the state of deep relaxation in Yoga. But … when we knit, are we really getting all the benefits?
I asked myself this question when knitting while watching Game of Thrones back in the Stark clan’s heyday. That show was well-written, but violent as all get out. I dropped more than a few stitches by the time winter finally came. We love to knit while watching TV, listening to podcasts, talking with friends, having a glass of wine… Those things are all fine and fun, and knitting can also be a reliable, frustration-free form of meditation.
The world is in a very intense place right now, and experts say it’s taking a toll on our mental health. But here’s the good news: we’ve got the inside track on a highly accessible, very effective form of meditation—right in our hands! And, unlike some traditional forms of meditation, ours is actually (wait for it) fun.
Combining aspects of my Yoga and meditation training with knitting, I came up with a system of MedKNITation that you can do easily. Using a “mindless” project like a scarf or the part of a sweater that’s endless stockinette, set aside 10 to 15 minutes of quiet time a day (without TV, wine, or talking), follow these simple steps, and you may soon be possessed of enviable calm.
- Grounding: In a comfortable chair, sit up tall, without strain, to create space for your breathing.
- Scanning: Jon Kabat-Zinn’s body scan meditation is part of his stress reduction system, and it’s easy: mentally go through your body from your toes to the top of your head, noting, without judgement, how you feel.
- Breathing: Deep breaths are part of the body’s relaxation response. Taking three comfortably deep breaths will help calm your body and mind.
- Engaging: Part of the allure of knitting is how it delights our senses. Take in the colors of your yarn, let your mind be soothed by the orderliness of your stitches, and invite your tactile senses to the meditation by smooshing your yarn.
- Focusing: When we first learn to knit, each stitch has our full attention. As you begin this knitting meditation, go more slowly than you usually do. Let your awareness rest gently on the motions your fingers are making; the feel of the yarn passing through your hands; any sounds your needles make.
- Accepting: A common misconception about meditation is that the mind should be clear of any thoughts. If thoughts come up, let them. Observe them the way someone might observe traffic from a porch; they can see it, but they don’t have to walk into it.
- Closing: At the end of your allotted time, set aside your project and take three conscious, comfortably deep breaths to close your medknitation.
As I’ve made this a regular practice, I’ve learned to set intentions and weave prayers and a series of affirmations into my knitting meditations. The most important part, though, is giving yourself this gift of quiet space, a gentle, contemplative time that helps keep the dragons at bay.