By many people’s standards, 2020 has been a burning hell of a year, leaving us gasping for air and looking for an emergency exit —not to mention trying to find a better way to cope. If you’re familiar with the concept of mindfulness, you probably associate it with meditation, breathing, and yoga: all techniques to center and ground ourselves amidst uncertainty and swirling drama. But did knitting enter your mind? At first glance, cross-legged meditating yogis don’t have anything in common with recliner-ensconced knitting grandmothers…but they share more than most of us realize!
Consider this: Mindfulness, at its core, is about paying attention and being present in the moment. Beginning meditators are often advised to just sit, and concentrate on their breath for three to five minutes. When the mind tries to wander off to other thoughts, gently and non-judgmentally bring it back to the breath. No mantra (or app) necessary: just breathe in, breathe out, and observe.
Substituting “knit one, purl one” and adding the rhythmic, repetitive hand motions of knitting can induce similar relaxed states as mediation, lowering the heart rate and blood pressure, while engaging the mind and improving concentration. It even offers built-in feedback, because if your mind wanders off to that unkind comment from your co-worker, or what you’re making for dinner, you’re liable to screw up your stitches. The practice of knitting requires you to pay attention to the pattern and the movement, helping integrate your mind and body in the pursuit of a common goal in the present moment.
While knitting even a simple pattern can induce a peaceful state, more complex designs can help you to set aside thoughts and worries and enter a state of flow. A highly-focused mental state in which you’re so involved in an activity that nothing else matters, flow leaves no attention to devote to anything else. And when you emerge from the zone, you’ll hopefully have created something beautiful, or at least useful. That sense of accomplishment and creativity, in and of itself, makes knitting worthwhile.
If, like me, you find yourself worried about the future a lot these days, perhaps learning to knit is in order. It won’t solve any of our big problems (unless there’s a national epidemic of cold heads, hands & bodies), but it may help you to quiet your mind and cope with stress so that you can, in turn, engage with the world in a more productive way.
Great Books for Learning to Knit
If you are the type who learns better from diagrams and written material (or you shun human contact), the above options might not work for you. As for books, Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ‘N Bitch is popular for its clear illustrations, and irreverent tone. Knitty Gritty: Knitting for the Absolute Beginner, by Aneeta Patel, is another popular book for learning to knit, and many people swear by Maggie Righetti’s Knitting in Plain English.