By Kim Robson:
What unlikely hobby is enjoyed by Madeleine Albright, Goldie Hawn and Russell Crowe? Knitting! Who remembers the NFL football player Rosey Grier? No one DARED to tell this huge, burly athlete that knitting was considered a “sissy” activity for a man. People from all walks of life enjoy knitting and benefit from its peaceful, relaxing repetition.
Anyone who knows a knitter knows an addict. There must be something about yarn that’s like crack. I have a
friend who can’t pass a craft store without buying several skeins of new yarn, whether she needs them or not. Every Christmas, I get a hand-knitted item from my mom. I now own sweaters, several New York-length scarves, and an afghan throw for the couch. For those with a love of homemade, local and beautiful “slow fashion” items, knitted products are perfect.
Knitting has incredible health benefits. It makes people feel good in just about every way. Knitting is a powerful and therapeutic distraction, helping people manage long-term physical pain. Pain doesn’t originate in the spot where you feel it, but in your brain, where it interprets signals from the body. However, your brain can’t concentrate on two compelling activities at the same time. In fact, many chronically ill or disabled people who aren’t working can overcome a feeling of aimlessness simply by taking up knitting.
Planning a sweater provides impetus to plan other activities. Knitting is a “constructive addiction” that replaces other habits like smoking, drug abuse, binge eating, or obsessive habits. Another blessing is that knitters can take their relaxation tool with them and practice it in public. Plus, knitting doesn’t require a high level of artistic talent or expensive equipment, and it produces objects that people enjoy. Knitters will tell you that just stroking their yarn cheers them up.
Feeling depressed? Knitting can help people reconnect with the world. A knitting group can turn a solitary activity into a social one, allowing people to interact politely without making eye contact. A study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy called “The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood” found that “knitting in a group impacted significantly on perceived happiness, improved social contact, and communication with others.”
Knitting is supremely relaxing, helping to reduce stress and anxiety. It can elicit “the relaxation response” – decreased heart rate, muscle tension and blood pressure. Like meditation, knitting is described as “spiritual” and “Zen-like.” It gives us a break from busy schedules, a technology-saturated world, and a rare chance to be alone with our thoughts.
Educators are beginning to realize that knitting improves concentration and can provide an outlet for excess energy. A Toronto teacher started a knitting club for 7- and 8-year-olds at a private boys’ school. It was a smashing success, with boys opting to stay in from recess to work on projects. Some were extremely hyper, but focusing on working with their hands helped them relax and gave them a sense of accomplishment. “The effect is instantaneous, overwhelming calm.”
Knitting benefits older people, too. Studies have shown it to reduce the risk of dementia. Knitting keeps arthritic fingers limber by improving dexterity in the hands and fingers. The Arthritis Foundation suggests approaching knitting like a sport, warming up your hands before you get started. Stick with it and you’ll see more long-term benefits and less arthritis pain.
Knitting simply makes people happy, from the people who knit to those who receive knitted items, to those who see knitting in their surroundings. Consider the popularity of “yarn-bombing,” the charming and unexpected knitted “graffiti” decorating public spaces, filling them with smile-inducing warmth and color.
Even professionals are catching on. Stitchlinks is a UK-based group that’s developing a network of knitting therapy groups in hospitals, doctors’ offices, schools, workplaces and care facilities. Its website states “Therapeutic knitting [is] being formally acknowledged by leading clinicians and academics for [its] benefits in mainstream healthcare.”
Want to learn to knit now? I surely do! Most yarn shops, as well as Michael’s Craft Stores, host classes. There are also numerous websites and YouTube tutorials you can try. Happy knitting – you’re sure to feel good and have plenty of warm gifts for the next holiday season!