Is there such a thing as knitting therapy?
Before I proceed with the answer to this unusual question, let’s first discuss meditation.
In this day and age, unless you live as a hermit, we are all knowledgeable about the incredible benefits of regular meditation.
However, it is apparent we are not all on the same page as to what meditation is. The term is broad and therefore, confusing. For some, the guidelines on meditation are rather strict and unbending. I was relieved to find out meditation takes on many forms.
On a side note: a great read on the subject is Unplug.
Personally, I used to believe meditation had to be done sitting in the lotus position, eyes closed, hands on laps while humming Om, with my mind empty of thought. If indeed this was meditation, you could count me out; this was not going to happen for me…ever.
I was much comforted upon finding I was wrong on all counts. Meditation isn’t the absence of thoughts. Instead, it is about not allowing the thoughts – which never fail to appear – to control us.
Meditation is a brain vacation of sorts, a process very healing to our overworked and overstimulated craniums.
Knitting Therapy…Is that a Thing?
Last year, while attending a knitting group, I wondered aloud if the activity of knitting could be meditative. One lady thought she had indeed seen a book on this subject.
My curiosity was peaked.
I find knitting extraordinarily calming and meditative. My thoughts decrease when I knit, I can also be more focused.
For example, the other night – as in last Sunday – I was sitting at a Varsity Football Banquet for my son on the heels of a six-hour drive back from California. Two hours into the lengthy – and admittedly, somewhat dull – dinner, I became slightly restless. Then, I remembered my project bag in my car!
I spent the rest of the award ceremony happily – and calmly – knitting away.
Was I onto something?
Could knitting therapy be a thing?
Could knitting be meditation?
Oh, the Places I Will Go…Knitting
You will indeed find me most evenings, knitting (or crocheting) as I find these activities extremely relaxing. I knit in the car (as a passenger), or while waiting for appointments. As I mentioned above, I knit at boring as well as fun dinners, and I would love to knit when attending weddings or any church events if that was socially acceptable.
I travel everywhere with my project bag.
For me, the activity of knitting is a way to express myself through patterns and colors. It is creative, satisfying, meditative, AND indeed healing.
My Knitting Story
I have a vague recollection of my paternal grandmother teaching me to knit and purl when I was around eight. Though this lesson 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 her unborn baby: cute little rompers, sweaters, and baby booties. I was around ten at the 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 (pun not intended).
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 spared from my knitting creations. There was also a time when my parents worried a tad about me. I indeed overhead them telling someone “she doesn’t go out much.”
The Surprising Zen Benefits of Knitting Therapy
My search into “knitting therapy” started in earnest by typing “knitting as meditation” into the Google search engine (how did I live my entire childhood without Google?) I received 696,000 results.
Not too shabby.
I was a little surprised to find out knitting had already been studied by bonafide researchers.
I discovered 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 uncover significant differences between knitters and non-knitters. Responses were received from 3,545 knitters worldwide. The data were 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 well-being and quality of life. The research concluded: “as a skilled and creative occupation, kitting 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
According to the research, the benefits of knitting therapy are as follows:
- 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, which is very substantial!
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, a study called “Engaging in cognitive activities, aging, and mild cognitive impairment: a population-based study,” showed that activities like knitting and crocheting could have enriched brain function as we age.
The authors investigated whether engaging in cognitive activities (such as knitting) was associated with aging and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). A random sample was assembled. The 1,321 study participants -ages 70 to 89 – were interviewed about the frequency of the cognitive activities they participated in (within one year of the date of interview).
The activities were comprised of computers, crafts (including knitting, quilting, etc), playing games as well as reading.
The researchers found that those who engaged in 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 endeavors engage different parts of the brain which not only stimulates neural connections but also keep these connections working quickly and efficiently.
Cognitive Activities and the Brain
Crafting, knitting, and other such activities engage multiple parts of the brain:
- 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 in perception and recognition of auditory stimuli, memory, and speech).
- The cerebellum (which 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 concluded: “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, as well as many additional wellness benefits.
Evidently, knitting is good stuff, and it can indeed 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 [kindle edition only]
- 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