• Carolyn Smith

The Zen of Knitting

Finding a morsel of peace one stitch at a time. What have I been doing on my time away from the studio this winter?

Besides being with my family in various ways I decided to pick up knitting again. I learned to knit in high school and then have dabbled in it off and on in the past years. I am much more skilled at buying yarn than creating with it - I have never progressed beyond knit and purl stitches and hats and scarfs. With determination I decided I was going to teach myself how to knit mittens using YouTube.

I also consciously decided I wanted to forgo the local superstore’s conventional yarn and invest in sustainable harvested and died wool - local if possible. I headed down to Scratch in Lebanon, NH. The store was beautiful, the owner so helpful, and the yarn was a feast for your eyes.

Knitting has a learning curve. In the process of learning how to knit “for real” like life there was an ebb and flow of frustration, do-overs, mistakes, dropped-stitches, progress, and success. The perfectionist in me had to relax and let go.

I noticed one over the major spikes of learning curve that when I sit, and pick up my project to knit I feel my body relax, my breath become even, and my mind slow down. My attention is drawn to the rhythm of my hands moving the yarn and needles in a rhythmic pattern. Eventually, the outside world fades into the background, and I can feel myself slip into a quiet place—the same space that my yoga practice or meditation practice takes me to. I tend to become absorbed in knitting, I enter an altered state in which time is suspended and I forget about my to-do list. I have found it hard to stop and put it down, “just one more row.”

Meditation and mindfulness are about paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. Knitting this winter has offered that perfect present-moment focal point. “Mom, now what are you knitting?!?” “I have to knit the other mitten.”

Along with being a portable practice that can go anywhere I go, and a practical practice that eventually produces something beautiful and useful, knitting has significant health benefits. Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response and a pioneer in mind/body medicine, says that repetitive actions, such as those we perform when knitting, can induce a relaxed state like the state associated with meditation and yoga. Science now shows that after the learning curve such practices can lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce cortisol levels, and relieve conditions like insomnia.

Check out more about the health benefits here >>>

Knitting also involves following and recognizing patterns, learning new stitches, using both hands, and math, which helps knitters improve fine motor skills while also keeping the mind active and engaged. This is good news for those who are looking to keep their mind sharp as well as their hands busy. Knitting has such value for brain development that Waldorf Schools teach children to knit before teaching them to read, in the belief that knitting develops dexterity, focus and rudimentary arithmetic.

I feel excited about my new project, invigorated to learn something new, and excited to gain new skills to create more complicated and beautiful things.

I am curious, do you knit or do you have a similar activity that affords you the same peace as your mediation and/or yoga practice?