Not so long ago, I went into my colleagues’ office and declared I was going to propose a research project for an upcoming professional learning day.
“Who’s going to join my project on Knitting for Mindfulness and Community Connection?” I asked.
Surprisingly (or, hopefully, unsurprisingly), I had a lot of support. The only down side is that I’m pretty sure Knitting for Mindfulness and Community Connection is not a priority in a school. People tend to want to focus on topics such as curriculum or anything related to the whole teaching process. You know, the actual focus of a school. It’s a shame, because I reckon my project would do a lot of good.
What’s so good about knitting anyway?
If you’ve been following along with me for a while, firstly, thank-you. It’s been great getting to know you. Secondly, I’m pretty sure you might already know the answer to that question. And if you don’t, read on!
For me, knitting is a way to connect with the past. I love my social history. Forget about kings and queens and all those stupid battles were peasants died and the rich learnt nothing. I want to know how those peasants lived. What they ate. What people wore and how they made it.
Knitting allows me to touch the past, albeit a slightly more recent past. Nothing thrills me more than knitting from a 1950s pattern and feeling as though I’m bringing a piece of that era back to life. And few things make me smile more than hand-written notes in a thrifted knitting pattern, letting me know that I’m following along in another knitter’s footsteps. Or stitches, to be more accurate.
For a while there, I thought this was the best thing about knitting. However, it turns out that while I’m getting all excited about knitting with ghosts, knitting itself is doing fantastic things to me.
Knitting keeps your brain active
I seriously love my brain. I love the way it works, even when it’s trying to keep going at 1am in the morning, triggering a series of negotiations along the lines of Shut-up, please, I really need to sleep. Although my brain and I differ on ideal sleep patterns, we both nothing more than settling down for an extended knitting session.
The good news is that, even though it might look as though I’m patiently constructing the front of a cardigan, what I’m actually doing is reducing my risk of cognitive impairment later in life. According to a 2011 study, reading and playing music are great for the brain, but only activities such as knitting keep it in tip-top shape and stave off age-related loss of function.
The thing is, knitting is a wonderfully contradictory combination of an activity that calms the mind whilst also strengthening it. While the repetitive actions soothe you, other parts of your brain are occupied with imagining what the finished garment will look like and yet others are focussed on how good it will feel to complete such a huge achievement. It’s a whole-brain workout!
This comprehensive brain exercise session is doing amazing things for your fine motor skills, thanks to fact that almost every part of your brain is engaged while you knit. Here’s a run-down of exactly what’s going on, as Kathryn Harper explains in her Lifehack article on knitting:
… the frontal lobe (which guides rewards processing, attention and planning), the parietal lobe (which handles sensory information and spatial navigation), the occipital lobe (which processes visual information), the temporal lobe (which is involved in storing memories and interpreting language and meaning) and the cerebellum (which coordinates precision and timing of movement) … (Click here to read the whole article.)
On top of essentially running an aerobics class for your entire brain, knitting also has the capacity to distract you from minor pain and to reinforce your fine motor skills, which are essential to remaining dexterous as you grow older.
So I’ll soon have a cosy Winter cardigan and I’ll have laid down some solid brainy foundations for my geriatric years. That is the very definition of winning.
Knitting is great for introverts
Take it from me: knitting is an excellent ice-breaker for introverts. As a classic introvert, I’m rubbish at small talk. I hate it. It feels disingenuous to me. And then I feel pretentious for using a word such as disingenuous. One sure-fire way for me to talk easily to someone is to have a topic already to hand. Forget about the weather or the current state of politics or whether the bus is ever going to turn up; let’s talk about knitting instead.
Where I wouldn’t walk into a room of strangers empty-handed, I’ll happily join one if everyone’s knitting.
It’s a bit like a shield. If I know I can go somewhere and talk about knitting and have everyone understand the misery of finding a mistake in your lace pattern ten rows back, then I feel much more comfortable. I’m more likely to be myself in those conditions.
Then there’s the fact that people who don’t knit seem to look upon it as a kind of magic. (Which it is, really. You take a ball of wool and a couple of sticks and turn it into a thing you can wear! And while it’s not as quick as waving a wand about and saying a magic word, it’s still pretty impressive.) Many a time I’ve sat and knitted during a break at work, conscious of the fact that someone was staring at my knitting fingers intently.
People will ask you what you’re knitting, or tell you stories of items that were knitted for them. My nana used to knit… Or, I wish I could knit… Or, How do you tell the difference between knitting and crochet?
Conversation starters, the lot of them. That’s my sort of small talk.
Knitting keeps you calm
You see articles everywhere claiming that knitting is the new yoga or the new meditation or the new quinoa…
Comparatives aside, knitting really does pull you into the moment.
Even though you can quite easily knit whilst watching Netflix or paying attention at a meeting or even while chatting with other knitters, on some level you are still focussed on your knitting. You think of getting to the end of the row. You recall where you are in your cable pattern repeat. You focus on keeping a regular tension and you enjoy the slow progress of your garment.
Your thoughts are in the present, caught up in stitches and yarn. There’s little opportunity for you to worry about your problems because your brain’s having too much fun getting all that synpasy exercise and enjoying little euphoric bursts of achievement.
As great as your brain is, it can only focus on one thing at a time. And when you let it focus on your knitting, you’re doing brilliant things for your well-being, as the people at Stitchlinks have proven. Click here to read some of the feedback they’ve received on their therapeutic knitting sessions.
If that’s not enough proof for you, then you need to read about Project Knitwell (possibly the best-named project in the history of ever). Project Knitwell was set up to monitor the mental health and work stresses of nurses in an oncology ward. Spoiler alert: knitting made them all feel better and provided them with an escape from the trauma of their work.
If knitting can help people who work with cancer patients on a daily basis, imagine what it can do for you. Or is already doing for you, as I hope is the case.
So if you’re worried that you can’t contort yourself into the simplest of yoga poses, try cable stitch instead.
Can’t meditate to save yourself? Try a bit of easy-going stocking stitch.
Can’t stop thinking about your worries? Try casting on a sock!
Forget about fixing yourself a goji berry smoothie in your mason jar; get out the needles and yarn instead. Who needs super foods when you can have a super craft instead? And you can reward yourself with a nice hat at the end of it.
Knitting is good for your hands
You’d think that all of those repetitive motions would cause RSI or arthritis or do some sort of damage to your joints, wouldn’t you? Nope. Not even close. It’s actually good for you. Just have a look at this quote from Alton Barron, doctor and knitting aficionado:
Moving the joints of the fingers forces fluid to move in and out of the surrounding, sponge-like cartilage, keeping the joints well-hydrated and minimising the risk of arthritis. (Click here to read more.)
And yes, while it’s not entirely pleasant to be thinking of all that fluid moving around in our fingers while we knit, we should definitely think of the benefits it provides. While knitting is setting up our brains for good stuff, it’s also keeping our fingers in stunning condition.
(If you’re worried about being a little sedentary while knitting, fret no longer: Phil at The Twisted Yarn proves it’s more than possible to knit whilst walking. No guarantees about not running into lamp-posts, however.)
Everyone should knit
Everyone should knit. It’s that simple. I don’t care if you’re young or old or male or female, you should get out there and knit. It’s good for you in so many ways.
In fact, maybe I should go in to work tomorrow and propose my Knitting for Mindfulness and Community Connection after all.
Want to learn to knit?
While I wish I could gather you all around to my place for a cuppa and a knitting session, I just can’t! The airline fares would be prohibitively expensive, for a start. So as we wait for cheap and instantaneous transport to exist, I recommend checking out Very Pink Knits on YouTube and beginning your journey to a better brain and a wardrobe full of knits. Click here to learn all the skills you need to make a scarf: Very Pink Knits – Learn how to make your first scarf.