Benefits of Knitting Expounded Upon
There has been quite a buzz about the therapeutic value of knitting these days and, not surprisingly, a series of studies verifying the benefits. As a former Art Therapist & one who also ran an occupational therapy department in a past life, I have long been aware of how our pace, senses, thoughts, experiences, and exposure to different mediums impact how we feel and how we express ourselves. For many years I had only been a Winter knitter, so it took me by surprise when I found myself knitting year round and stopped to ask myself why. It was one of those, “Well, duh!” moments as I connected with the fact that with my husband’s terminal illness, I had naturally gravitated to knitting as a stress management tool.
We now know that the rhythmic movements of knitting become a kind of meditative experience. Our blood pressure is lowered, and our heart rate slows. If we choose, we can be blessed with mindless moments where the absence of thought is a relief. For some, this is also a time when we feel at One with our Creator ~ a spiritual connection during which guidance for our life is received. For others, there is something magical about the tactile aspects of the fibers ~ those once-live-on-the-animal and now live-in-our-hands fibers that speak to us of farm, warmth, and creature comforts.
Whatever our reasons are for knitting, we can always be assured that what we knit will express who the sheep was, who we are as expressive beings, and at least one way we present ourselves to the world.
I found a recent blog by KDD & Co. to stimulate more thought about knitting. The premise was that all is not sweetness & light - generalizations about the benefits of knitting somehow negate the fact that knitting experience and mental health may yield varied & less pleasurable experience or obscure the creative aspects of knitting. She found the description of knitting as calming, relaxing, and mindful to be disturbing, pointing out that it might also include repression, control, or include disturbing associations.
First let me say that knitting is no different than a myriad of mediums in that one’s experience with that medium is always personalized and informed by the totality of the maker’s health & life experience. As one trained in Art Therapy, it is known that different mediums tend to call forth a certain response. For example, pencil is a medium which allows us to be quite controlled in how it is used, and therefore emotional responses to product & process come at a slower pace. Watercolor, on the other hand, is wet, messy, running on the page, and less controllable. Giving watercolors to someone who is highly repressed is likely to produce emotional distress. I think it is safe to say that when used in home environments, art/craft mediums tend to be self regulating and self pacing. Knitting, similar to weaving, does have a rhythmic nature. Once knitting skills are acquired, it is that rhythm which generally calls us into meditative, relaxed states. That said, as mentioned earlier, our experience is always, inseparably linked to our health & life experience. One’s personal experience can differ from the usual.
Now, if one acknowledges generalized reactions to knitting, does that mean such elements as stimulation of ideas, creative visioning, process orientation, or problem solving while making are obscured? I think not. We are as stimulated, engaged, calmed, excited, or as upset as we allow. Much of what happens during the creative process is non verbal. When in home or studio with ourselves, our attendant thoughts, emotions, and associations reside within. In therapeutic environments, particularly with an Art Therapist appropriately trained in an accredited program, materials are carefully chosen, as are specific exercises to address emotional needs, and pace the unfolding and processing of what arises. In other therapeutic environments such as Occupational Therapy, the goals may be different, learning to produce a specific object, or practice with a tool intended to strengthen hand muscles.
Can knitting at home be calming, relaxing, and meditative? Of course. Could knitting at home bring rise to associations, pleasant or not? Certainly. Does knitting stir creative energies and lead to visions of projects one might want to design, thoughts of how to execute those designs, experimentation, and satisfaction or frustration in practice? Yes. However, sometimes we may choose mindless knitting, where concentration on pattern is not wanted, and simply Being with the rhythm is the goal. At other times, we may choose to use our knitting as a background activity while we “think tank” or problem solve something else going on in our lives. Or, maybe even after decades of knitting, we are not called to design on a grander scale than choosing color & altering the length. It’s all good, all valid. The vast majority of us enjoy the process of knitting and that is as it should be.
Oh heavens, who knew there was so much to think about with knitting? Maybe we just want to connect with nature, enjoy the tactile aspects of the fiber, bathe ourselves in color, and listen to the click, click, click.
MYFS Yarn shop Manager
(retired state licensed clinical mental health counselor & nationally board certified art therapist)