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Knitting as Meditation

April 9, 2009

It’s so easy to enter a meditative state while knitting. Something about the rhythmic movement back and forth between the right and left hands, something about the soothing repetition of movements. Something about it…

I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to write about knitting as a meditative art. People have tried to understand it in right brain/left brain terms. It has been compared to EMDR with its right and left eye movements. There have been lots of attempts to explain why it works, as if people need to prove its therapeutic benefits. I don’t really care why it works, it’s enough for me that it does.

I picked up knitting at a particularly stressful time in my life, not realizing that it had become a craze. Having learned it when I was young, my mind-body must have remembered the feeling of it and signaled my intuition that it was time to start knitting again. I find knitting to be so comforting and relaxing. I’ve known that it produces a meditative state, but it was just a couple days ago that I fully appreciated its power. When I was thinking about the similarity between meditation and knitting, I realized that you can’t worry and knit at the same time! 

When you worry, the mind gets involved in a train of thought — a story about what might happen, what could happen, what might have happened and so on. Worrying engages the emotions in a way that creates anxiety.  The use of your hands and the sight of the stitches being formed breaks that pattern. I challenge you to see if you can worry while you knit! To test this out, I knit a few rows actually trying to worry. I couldn’t do it. I could come up with worry thoughts like “what if that pain is a horrible disease” and “what if I can’t pay the bills next month”, but no matter what thought I conjured up, there was no emotional juice that came with it.

So many of the phrases I use while leading guided meditations aim to do this same thing — to disentangle the thoughts from the emotions, to allow the mind to break free of its usual patterns so that one enjoys a simple, open state of awareness. When I say things like “not minding the stories of the mind” or “let thoughts be a meaningless activity in the mind”, I am encouraging the mind to do what it does while we knit — disengage.

If you decide to knit to meditate, I think you’ll find the effect is the most powerful when you do a simple knit stitch over and over. In knitting, it’s called “garter stitch”. You just knit and knit and knit and don’t try to follow a complex pattern. It’s easy to learn, and you may find you also love handling beautifully colored yarns with various yummy textures. You might even end up with some great scarves in the process!

OK, so you’re behind the curve on the knitting craze. For all I know it’s over. Who cares? Knitting makes a great meditation. And, if you are hesitant because you are of the male gender, please know that, to borrow a book title, “real men knit”. Russell Crowe does it. Brad Pitt does it. The big, talk Ghi McBride character on Pushing Daisies does it. Just do it!

Comments

18 Responses to “Knitting as Meditation”

  1. Lotus on April 9th, 2009 9:10 pm

    It’s interesting that you brought this up as recently my group has touched on various forms of meditation that we do in our daily life. And recently I’ve been reading a lot on meditative/hypnotic state of mind.

    It seems like when we are in the alpha state of mind (a deep relaxed state of mind but yet still conscious) we are in a meditative state whereby our subconscious mind is heightened.

    I think to get into that state of mind, we need to be single “mindedly” focus but yet deeply relax.

    I could see how knitting can get you there though I have not done it.

    For me, ice-skating can be my meditation. I know it is hard to imagine that. Just the thought about struggling to balance yourself and the fear of falling seems intense. But for me, the very act of balancing, fully put me in deep undivided focus. The motions of gliding so freely like a bird in the air frees my spirits. I am 46 but I feel like seventeen again.

  2. Mary on April 10th, 2009 9:20 am

    Lotus, ice skating as meditation does make sense, especially in light of your explanation of how one gets into a meditative state. Interesting also that in ice skating, like knitting, there’s the alternation of left and right…

    The necessity for one-pointed focus in ice skating made me think of the documentary “Man on Wire”. It’s about Philippe Petit and his incredible feat of walking between the Twin Towers on a tightrope in 1974. My sense in watching the film of him doing this was that he must have been in a deeply meditative state as he did it.

  3. Jennifer on April 10th, 2009 11:09 am

    I have to ask (I do knit, and this topic has come up in my meditation class), do you knit extremely slowly when you do this? I’ve been told I should knit as slow as possible when meditating, but it drives me crazy!

  4. Mary on April 10th, 2009 11:41 am

    Jennifer,
    That would drive me crazy too and defeat the whole purpose for me! I just knit at a pace that feels comfortable and relaxing. My approach to meditation is all about naturalness.

  5. Rebecca on April 12th, 2009 1:01 pm

    I just knit at my own pace, not thinking about whether it is fast or slow. I have knit a lot of garter stitch scarves via meditation. Also prayer shawls are an excellent project for knitting as meditation, especially if you are giving them as a gift.
    Knitting has always been my favorite form of meditation. I don’t ice skate, but I do go on walking meditations at our local park. Any solo activity could be a great way to meditate. Gardening, crocheting, painting, etc.

  6. magsmadison on April 15th, 2009 7:03 pm

    I have found myself getting into this kind of zone, too, while doing creative things that I have done for a long time. I’ve never considered it to be meditative before, however. I’ll have to think about this a bit!

  7. Mary on April 16th, 2009 3:49 pm

    Will be interested, magsmadison, to hear your thoughts as you compare the two…

  8. tay on May 11th, 2009 8:50 am

    I once knit a shawl large enough to cover me from neck to knees, and to drape to my mid-thigh when I stand. I’m five foot two, and it was the largest project I’d done so far. The way I did it? I listened to music, or talked with someone over Skype, but I did not pay attention to what pattern I was using. And now, I doubt I can duplicate it.

  9. Julie C. Nelson, RYT on June 27th, 2009 4:14 pm

    Knitting as a form of Mindfulness Meditation has been a growing topic now for the past five years or so, with several notable books being written on the subject. The art of hand-knitting has been praised for it’s therapeutic and relaxing benefits, and compared to the practices of yoga and meditation. Recently there has been a growing movement of groups that meet to hold knitting and meditation retreats where further exploration of the meditative aspects of knitting are examined.

    For more on the history of Mindful Knitting, go to:

    http://labelingthoughts.org/wiki/Knitting_portal

    In addition to the calming benefits of yoga (Samatha meditation), I am also exploring the use of knitting as a backdrop to Vipassana or Insight Meditation for self-inquiry.

    For more information see:

    http://www.coolmoonyoga.com/Workshops.html

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  15. chibi-knit on February 5th, 2013 7:07 pm

    Absolutely I can worry while I knit. My mind has nothing better to do while my hands are automatically making the stitches to focus on, and amplify, whatever is worrying me.

  16. Mary on February 6th, 2013 12:31 pm

    It’s interesting to hear your experience. Perhaps it’s because you’re such an expert knitter and the knitting is very automatic. You could try to make a meditation out of it by easily focusing on making the stitches or focusing on the rhythm. No one style of meditation works for everyone!

  17. Kieran on April 23rd, 2014 10:24 am

    I also began knitting at a stressful period of my like. As I continued to knit I became aware of the relaxation that comes from it. So, as a psychologist, I began to thinking about and explore the literature of mindful knitting. I discovered that there has been little to no empirical research done on the topic; I designed a qualitative study of the practice, but lack participants. Maybe you can help me to local individuals who would be willing to be a part of this important work.
    Dr. Kieran Cunningham

  18. Mary on April 23rd, 2014 11:04 am

    Kieran, I will post this on our Facebook page, but will need permission to post your email address or some other way that you can be contacted.

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