Therapeutic Benefits of Knitting: Mindfulness in Action

Therapeutic Knitting Mindfulness in action

Photo Credits: ZenKitty/Babuska; Joathina; Mararie – kindly made available under the Creative Commons License.

It has been well established, through 35 years of research, that stress can lead to mental health problems, and can cause or exacerbate up to 90% of medical conditions.

When I feel stressed, overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious, I just sit down and knit. Knitting slows me down. It grounds me and allows me to get lost in my thoughts.  It make me feel relaxed, in control, and happy. I have always  just known that it makes me feel good!

As a fellow knitter, physiotherapist Betsan Corkhill, also recognized those “feel good” effects of knitting, and has taken this knowledge to whole new level.  Corkhill is the founder of Stitchlinks, an organization which aims to find out more about the therapeutic benefits of knitting. The findings are fascinating!

Knitting is an effective, easily accessible tool that everyone can use to manage daily stresses. But it is also a valuable self-help tool for those dealing with more serious mental health issues and/or medical conditions.  The main conditions that Therapeutic Knitting is used for are:

  • Stress
  • Low mood
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Addiction
  • Eating Disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia

Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that knitting can induce a form of meditation very similar to Mindfulness. Recent research has shown that Mindfulness can be very effective in treating depression and chronic pain.   

In  this article, Corkhill writes,

Mindfulness can be a difficult technique to teach, particularly to those who need it the most – the highly stressed, those suffering chronic pain or depression. These conditions make it difficult to concentrate the mind. Knitting is exciting because it opens up the benefits of Mindfulness to everyone.

When Corkhill surveyed over 3,500 knitter with Cardiff University, they found that the more frequently people knitted, the happier and calmer they said they felt.  81% of respondents said the felt happier during and after knitting, and 54% of the respondents who were clinically depressed said knitting made them feel happy or very happy.

Like Yoga, knitting uses physical movements to induce a state of mindfulness and affect a change in your state of mind. It can leave you feeling more in touch with the real world. “It’s the rhythmic, repetitive movements that are important,” Corkhill explains.  Similar to a yoga flow, the rhythm of working the same stitch over and over again calms the heart rate and breathing, creating a feeling of stability and inner quiet.

Research suggests that the rhythmical, repetitive motions of knitting could enhance the release of serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood, learning, and sleep. Serotonin is a naturally occurring analgesic (painkiller), and low serotonin levels have been linked to depression and anxiety disorders, as well as decreased pain thresholds.  This could explain why knitters have reported improved mood, feelings of calmness and lower levels of pain.

For those dealing with chronic pain and long-term medical conditions, life can be especially challenging. Through Stichlinks, Corkhill has received many stories from people who described feeling out of control of their lives, worthless, lonely and isolated because of chronic illness. However, the discovery of knitting had a hugely positive impact on their well-being.

First and foremost, knitting gave them something to do during enforced periods of rest. They no longer felt “lazy,” and instead found something productive, creative and enjoyable to do. Forgotten feelings, such as excitement and anticipation, were rekindled and they began to plan ahead, set goals, and experience increased self-esteem. The ability to give gifts or knit for charity gave their self-esteem a further boost.

Many of people who have written to Corkhill about their experiences of therapeutic knitting describe being able to “forget” the pain. Even those experiencing severe pain said that it was effective. Indeed, researchers have found that  the brain can’t concentrate on two things at the same time, and so if you are able to occupy the mind sufficiently, your brain won’t be able to interpret the pain-inducing signals.

Knitting has therapeutic benefits for both the mind and the body. Traditional western medicine tends to treat the body and not the mind, but research has shown that a person’s thought processes and attitude has a significant impact on health, recovery, and well-being.Therapeutic knitting deals with issues of loneliness, social isolation, self-esteem, stress/anxiety, and an unoccupied mind that’s left to ruminate on problems. It can boost confidence, self-esteem, motivation and mood. It can change negative thoughts and attitudes into positive ones.

Whether you are dealing with the daily ups and downs of a stressful, busy life, or dealing with chronic health issues, we all could benefit from reducing the amount of stress we experience in our daily lives.  Being able to ‘switch off’ for a short time every day gives the mind a break and is beneficial to well-being.

So take some time for yourself every day, and knit. You will be happy that you did.

Stay healthy, Be Happy x

Maintain Balance with a Fall Wellness Ritual

 

photo credit: patriziasoliani via photopin cc

photo credit: patriziasoliani via photopin cc

In a recent post, Embracing Autumn & Honoring the Harvest Moon, I wrote about autumn as a time to rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit.

Well, I would like to continue that train of thought to share with you my own Fall Wellness Ritual, which I try to follow as a way to stay grounded, balanced and healthy during the fall and winter months. According to Ayurveda, fall and winter are known as “Vata season” because they are marked by some of the same qualities that characterize Vata: cold, dry, light, clear, rough, and moving.

Although all body types are vulnerable to Vata imbalance during autumn and winter, as a Vata type, I am particularly vulnerable to imbalance during this season. Vata imbalance can manifest as physical or emotional disorders, including insomnia, dry skin, arthritis, constipation, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.

Don’t know your dosha type? Take a dosha quiz.

Ayurveda teaches us to read nature for clues on how to adapt our daily routines. Since autumn is a time when Agni (fire) begins to cool down, we need to turn up our inner fire to sustain us through the colder, winter months. Naturally, the main idea for fall and early winter is to keep yourself warmgrounded, and moisturized. During this season, the body instinctively gravitates toward cooked meals, earthier foods, rich scents and warmer colors.

As a predominantly Vata type, I thrive in constantly changing, and exciting environments. Energy comes in fits and bursts, and I like to move from one thing to another, as my interests and creative desires dictate. A daily routine is not something that comes naturally to me, yet this is exactly what I need during Vata season to stay balanced and healthy! The key is to develop a ritual that works for you and to be consistent.

Ayurveda: Warming Tea

Photo-Credit: Ayurveda Resort Sonnhof.

My Daily Fall Wellness Ritual:

  • Wake up at 5:00-5:30.
  • Drink hot lemon water with a little salt in the morning to stimulate elimination.
  • Meditate for at least 5 minutes. Try to take deep, cleansing breaths. Stay warm by wrapping yourself in a blanket.
  • Do a slow, warming, yoga practice. Focus on grounding your feet to the earth, to build strength and stability, in both your mind and body. Aim for at least 15 minutes (more if time allows).
  • Take a 5 minute savasana, and keep warm under a blanket. Take time to reconnect with the earth. Feel it support you.
  • Perform abhyanga (the ayurvedic daily self-massage) with warm sesame oil. Leave the oil on your skin for 10-30 minutes; follow with a warm shower. Alternatively, moisturize your body with oil after a warm shower.
  • Nourish your body with warm, moist foods during every meal. For breakfast, try a grounding breakfast of oatmeal, grains or quinoa. For lunch and dinner, try earthy soups and stews. Include lots of seasonal root vegetables and hearty grains. As a general rule, what the earth grows naturally in any given season is ideally what we should be eating to maintain balance within. During this time of year, fall harvest foods are best — sweet potatoes, squashes, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, arugula, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and collard greens.
  • Aim for bedtime before 10:00 pm and get a full eight hours of sleep each night.

For more ideas and information, read this great article, by My Yoga Online: Design Your Fall Yoga Ritual for Vitality.

Also, check out these great yoga videos:

Yoga for the Seasons – Fall Vinyasa

Fall Yin Restorative Yoga Practice

Some other things to consider during Vata season:

  • Avoid starting too many new projects that pull your energy in multiple directions! Remember, fall is a time to slow down and prepare for winter hibernation (This one is especially hard for me!)
  • Nourish the senses: colors contribute greatly to balance in the body. Since autumn is a cooler season, one can balance this climate by wearing clothes and decorating your home in warmer, richer colors — yellows, oranges and reds.
  • During the darker, colder months, avoid isolation and depression by nourishing relationships with friends and family. Schedule some coffee dates, playdates, and potlucks to get you out of the house, and to bring your support community together.
photo credit: HckySo via photopin cc

photo credit: HckySo via photopin cc

Establishing a daily routine can be challenging, especially if you are a Vata type. It goes against our very nature! But during the fall and winter months, it is an important part of maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit.

Remember, it takes about four weeks to form a new habit. Strive for the 3 Cs: Commitment, Convenience, and Consistency. We’re all busy, that’s just life. Make yourself a priority and commit to the change you want to make. You are worth it!  Try to create habits that work for you and your lifestyle. Being consistent is the most important thing in maintaining a healthy habit. If you really are pressed for time, do less, but do it often. Decide what is realistic for you to achieve on a daily basis, and then commit.

What do you like to do as part of your Fall Wellness Ritual? As always, I’d love hear your thoughts and ideas!

Take care, be well…