Medknitation Part I: How Are Meditation and Knitting Related?

This is the first in a series of three guest blog posts by Suzan Colón, a New York City-based yoga instructor, writer, and knitter. Read on to learn about the science behind therapeutic knitting. Visit Suzan’s website at www.suzancolon.net to learn more.


In May 2002, I’d just started teaching yoga and meditation when a friend of mine had a diving accident that left him paralyzed. To help him cope with the overwhelming stress of his injury, I taught him how to meditate using a yoga breathing technique. We started meeting weekly to meditate together, and on the way to see him, I’d often have some anxious moments of my own. What if I couldn’t help him? Was I even qualified for this, being such a new teacher? The breath-focused meditation I taught him helped, but I also used my other favorite form of meditation: knitting.

therapeutic knitting

Suzan practices medknitation at Knitty City yarn shop in New York City. Photo by Nathan Tweti.

Meditation is part of every major religion and spiritual path. The practice is thousands of years old, but it solves many of our modern problems by helping us improve focus, reduce stress (which boosts better health and healing), and be more resilient in a superfast-paced, always-changing world.

But people have a lot of preconceptions that keep them from meditating. Like that you have to sit in a twisty, uncomfortable position on the floor, in perfect silence, and clear your mind of all thoughts. Um, maybe if you’re a Jedi knight. I’ve been meditating for a long time and I can’t do any of those things.

And you don’t have to. Meditation is about training your focus on one thing so your thoughts gradually recede into the background, the way you no longer notice anything around you when you’re really into that intarsia. The usual points of focus in meditation are your breathing, or a mantra or prayer, but it can also be something active, like walking, eating, and (yes, yay!) knitting or crocheting.

Photo by Nathan Tweti.

“There are thousands of different types of meditative states, the main groups being focused attention,” says Betsan Corkhill, author of Knit for Health & Wellness (FlatBear Publishing, 2014) and Crochet Therapy (Apple Press, 2016). “Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced the concept of mindfulness in the 1970s with Mind Body Stress Reduction [a form of meditation used in hospitals across the country]. It’s about centering your awareness of the present moment in an intentional, non-judgmental way, observing your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations by using your breath as an anchor in the here and now. Lots of knitters and crocheters say they go into that same kind of mind state, because it’s hard to become stressed when knitting.”

Photo by Nathan Tweti.

So hard, in fact, that Betsan founded The Institute of Therapeutic Craft and Creativity to promote the wellness benefits of creative handiwork. And researchers are taking note: In one study, patients in an eating disorder clinic were given knitting lessons. After the session, 74 percent reported that knitting reduced the intensity of their fears and thoughts about their anorexia, and that knitting had a calming effect.


That’s certainly good news! Stay tuned for part two to learn more about the power of mindfulness in knitting, how some of the biggest knitters in the business feel about it, and how you can medknitate, too.

Happy medknitating,
Hannah


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