Medknitation Part II: Therapeutic Knitting Is a Thing

This is the second in a three-part series by author, yoga instructor, and knitter Suzan Colón. Read the first part here and stay tuned for part three so you, too, can become a master medknittator!

Since negative, scattered, and persistent thoughts frustrate many would-be meditators, a tangible anchor for the mind could mean an entirely different experience. It’s an idea that’s actually thousands of years old. In ancient times, spiritual teachers illustrated the benefit of having a point of focus using the analogy of an elephant’s trunk. When an elephant was taken through the marketplace, its trunk would wander into various baskets of stuff, much like our minds wander into the past, future, and other scenarios. But when the trainer gave the elephant a baton to hold in its trunk, no more wandering. A point of focus is a baton for our wandering minds. Baton, crochet hook, knitting needles . . . Yep, it all makes sense, especially for meditative makers.

Another thing hand knitting has in common with ages-old meditation techniques is the use of repetitive motion as an anchor. People say prayers using rosary beads, and in yoga and Buddhism, they repeat mantras using mala beads. The continual movement of the beads provides a tangible focal point, as well as a way to keep track of the number of repetitions. Both mind and body are engaged and focused.

therapeutic knitting

Daniel Casanova, another regular at Knitty City who’s known for his intricately patterned projects. He’s knitting working on a piece called “Woodland” by Nancy Marchant. Photo by Nathan Tweti, Knitty City, NYC.

There’s a scientific version of a swatch that shows how effective repetitive motion can be at calming the mind. “Repetitive motions and focus of needlework elicit the relaxation response [the opposite of the stress, or “fight or flight” response], a calming, meditation-like state,” reported researchers at The Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Harvard Medical School. More proof was all around them; a 2010 Harvard Gazette article counted over 20 knitting circles on the Ivy League university’s campus.

People start to knit and crochet for different reasons—a family member taught them, or they’re naturally drawn to crafts—but the meditation association is universal. “Knitting is a way to chill out, but also tune inward . . . It’s very meditative,” says Krysten Ritter, star of the Marvel/Netflix series Jessica Jones and knitwear designer.

“Knitting is rhythmic and calming and entirely in my control, even when the rest of the world feels like it might not be,” says Alanna Okun, author of The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater. “I reach for it to quiet my brain and prevent myself from fidgeting, like on the subway, during movies, even in some of my work meetings.”

therapeutic knitting

Mariana Zane, a regular at Knitty City, enjoys knitting because she finds it to be meditative. Photo by Nathan Tweti, Knitty City, NYC.

Come back in a few weeks for part three of Suzan’s series on medknitation, and learn how to medknitate yourself!


Our featured image depicts the hands of Mariana Zane, a regular at Knitty City’s community table. Featured image photo credit Nathan Tweti.

Therapeutic knitting and more in the store!

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