The feel of soft yarn between your fingers, the rhythmic click-click-click of knitting needles, the satisfaction of watching your work growing inch by inch while at the the same time your breathing slows, your body relaxes and the cares of the day slip away with every stitch. No wonder knitting is so popular.
People knit for four main reasons - relaxation, stress relief, therapeutic qualities and in order to be productive.
The rise of this old-fashioned hobby over the last few years has very little to do with thrift - after all, you can buy a scarf on the high street for far less than it costs to make one, especially if you factor in your time. Instead, knitting has become synonymous with wellbeing, the ‘new yoga’ according to some, imbued with qualities that can reduce stress, tackle depression, contribute to pain management and more.
Stitchlinks has been studying the therapeutic benefits of knitting since 2005, and has collected a huge amount of anecdotal evidence. Last year, they surveyed more than 3,500 knitters across 31 countries, and concluded that people knit for four main reasons - relaxation, stress relief, therapeutic/meditative qualities and in order to be productive. 81.5% of respondents said they felt happier during and after knitting, while 47% said knitting helped them think through and work out their problems.
Repetition can trigger a “relaxation response” that contributes to a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension.
So, how does this all add up to become knitting therapy? Part of it is just about having something useful and practical to do - being involved in a stimulating activity is known to reduce depression and pain, which is one of the fundamental principles of occupational therapy.
But the repetitive nature of creating stitch after stitch is important too, invoking an almost meditative state, which 67% of respondents in the Stitchlinks study reported to be true for them. According to Harvard University’s Dr Herbert Benson, such repetition can trigger a “relaxation response” that contributes to a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension.
The need to focus on the task at hand also contributes to mindfulness - being fully present in the moment rather than worrying about the past or future - which is a key tool in managing and reducing stress, and which can improve not only mental and emotional wellbeing but physical health.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Knitting can also give people a sense of achievement, boosting self-esteem; it can help develop motor skills; keep dementia and age-related mental decline at bay; improve concentration... oh, and it’s loads of fun too. With all that going for it, knitting is likely to be in vogue for many years to come.
- Start off with a simple project - anything too complicated and you’ll find yourself getting stressed instead of relaxing.
- Find a group - adding a social element to your knitting will further increase wellbeing, plus you’ll have someone to ask if you get stuck.
- Take regular breaks - repeated movement, while great for relaxation, can also cause injury such as RSI, so be aware of your body.
- Keep learning - don’t stay with the easy knits forever; occasionally trying a new project or pattern will increase your sense of achievement.