Mindful Makers: The Benefits of Knitting

Put down your crayons and grab your knitting needles—this craft could be the next big thing.

Being stuck on the couch post-surgery with nothing to do left my mind reeling…

I’m a very active person, and a (temporarily) forced sedentary lifestyle was not working well for me. So my mom handed me a ball of yarn and some knitting needles, and I begrudgingly took them, while rolling my eyes and mumbling under my breath how silly the idea was.

Fast-forward one week later and I had a beautiful, one of a kind, brand new scarf that I’d made with my own two hands… OK—and maybe the help of my mom’s two hands—but that’s beside the point. I was proud of my achievement, and glad to have had some form of stimulation, as well as distraction from the pain that I was in.

To be honest, it felt a bit meditative.

With benefits similar to those of meditation, knitting can be used as a tool for relaxation, to minimize anxiety, to help relieve stress, and as a means to refocus the mind. Obviously, knitting is not a new activity, but the praise it’s getting for its effects are bringing it back into the spotlight. In fact, according to Jane E. Brody’s recent article for The New York Times: “The Craft Yarn Council reports that a third of women ages 25 to 35 now knit or crochet.” So let the record state: Knitting isn’t just for grandma anymore.

Like Jane—a fellow knitter—I, too was taught how to knit by my mother, though initially reluctant to learn out of a believed “lack of time.” But, upon learning, I uncovered that when I pick up my needles I actually stay more present than I would otherwise.

Knitting is a great tool that can help you stay focused, enjoy silence, and listen. Think about what you do when you’re in these types of situations, or even just in the moments when you’re lacking mental stimulation or are bored: When you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, commuting on the train, or taking a break at work. Maybe these are times when you find yourself mindlessly eating, or on your phone checking Facebook or reading the latest celebrity happenings. Look around you and you’ll find that most people are doing the same. Give your brain a well-deserved boost instead!

In Jane’s piece, “The Health Benefits of Knitting”, she compares the knitting process to meditation, but touts added benefits, writing: “…unlike meditation, craft activities result in tangible useful products that can enhance self-esteem. I keep photos of my singular accomplishments on my cellphone to boost my spirits when needed.” I, too, still sometimes look at that scarf and feel a beam of pride and accomplishment.

But the benefits of knitting extend far beyond pride in a job well done—and you don’t just have to take this knitter’s word for it.

A survey conducted by the British Journal of Occupational Therapy sought to find support for the benefits of knitting on “personal and social well-being in adulthood.” There were over 3,500 responses from knitters around the world, many who said they knitted to help them relax, relieve stress, and serve as a creative outlet. The findings went on to show that: “More frequent knitters also reported higher cognitive functioning.” Taking your needles and yarn on the go can offer some much-needed mental stimulation during those less than exciting day-to-day activities. But it doesn’t just have to be a solo craft. In fact, the survey found: “Knitting in a group impacted significantly on perceived happiness, improved social contact and communication with others.”

A coworker of mine went outside to knit almost every day during the warmer-weather months for her lunch break. Curious, I  asked her how she felt about the process, and what it does for her on a deeper level. She told me that when she knits she prefers to have no outside distractions, and to just focus solely on the task at hand. “Knitting forces me to sit and relax,” she says, and likened it to the experience of nursing her son. She does say, though, that she needs to be “in the zone” to knit and willing to turn away from all of the usual distractions (“noise, phone, television, kids, husband, etcetera.”). And while for a time she was able to get there every day, she “has not gotten back into the zone to pick up the needles yet.”

After my recovery from surgery I retired my needles, too—not because I was less enthusiastic about the activity, but because I just couldn’t seem to find the time. I am famous for biting off more than I can chew, and suffer from some pretty mega anxiety because of it. My mind is always buzzing with to-do lists and mock-up schedules to get it all done. But now, remembering what knitting did for me then, and learning more about its benefits now is forcing me to re-evaluate the 24 hours of my day to find time to tune out from the stresses, let my mind unwind, and put my focus elsewhere… And, you have to admit, a new scarf is certainly an added perk.

Would you try knitting as an alternative form of meditation, or have you found another “crafty” way of relaxing? Let us know in the comments below.

Maggie Peikon bio2Maggie Peikon is a New York native, writer, and sufferer of insatiable wanderlust. An avid endorphin seeker she has a constant need to be moving, seeking adventure in all she does. She is a lover of travel, daydreaming, fitness, thunderstorms, and her dog, Finley. Despite the fact that she has to take medication daily due to a thyroidectomy, Maggie still believes that laughter will always be the best medicine. Follow her musings on Instagram and Twitter.