Written by Deborah Stack
Meet the Maker
Deborah has been knitting for over a decade. After teaching herself to knit during the summer between high school and college, she quickly began pursuing professional fiber craft opportunities. After an internship at Vogue Knitting Magazine, she began working as an acquisitions editor for Lark Crafts, an imprint of Sterling Publishing, editing all manner of DIY and craft books. After 3 years of full-time work in the craft publishing world, she made a shift to teaching, working full-time as an 8th grade ENL teacher in the Bronx, and teaching knitting both in the middle school classroom and to adults. Deborah is a certified yoga instructor, and likes to combine traditional mindfulness techniques with knitting, bringing even more calm to her favorite hobby. You can find her teaching mindfulness through knitting at fiber festivals, local yarn shops, and on Instagram as @makingpresence.
How to knit mindfully
Have you ever looked up, surprised, as you turn off your car, only to realize you’ve driven all the way to work? You remember getting in the car, turning on the radio, but for the past 30 minutes, it’s like you were in a trance, not even realizing you were driving?
If so, you’re not alone. This phenomenon of moving through the world while our thoughts are elsewhere is way more common than you might think! In a 2010 study, researchers sent notifications to participants’ phones throughout the day, asking them to assess what they were thinking about and doing in that moment. They found that just under 50% of the time, participants were not paying attention to what they were doing! It makes sense that with our phones in hand and social media sites just a click away, it is harder than ever to focus on the present moment.
So what’s the solution? It’s not always possible to erase those to-do’s, or to step away from our many responsibilities. Instead, we can turn to mindfulness to help us feel more rooted in the present moment, to notice our feelings as we experience them, and then to respond in a way that can help us get through a difficult moment- or enjoy a wonderful one.
Now, where does knitting come in?
Knitting has already been studied for its calming effects- and if you google ‘knitting is the new yoga,’ you’ll find at least a dozen articles comparing the two.
At its core, knitting exhibits natural calming effects. The physiological impact is comparable to that of buddhist meditation, slowing the breathing and the heart rate. If you knit, you are probably familiar with the calming nature of some projects (let’s exclude lace and steeking for the moment and focus on familiar stitches like stockinette)! Knitting provides a physical anchor for us to literally cling to, a connection to the physical world around us and our environment. Almost like the spinning top in Inception, knitting can be a focus and a physical reminder of where we are and what we are doing in the moment, and those benefits come whether or not we’re seeking out knitting as mindfulness practice.
If you’d like to try using knitting as an anchor, set aside about 10 minutes distinct from your regular knitting time to practice. To begin, decide to become really curious about your knitting. Notice the textures, the colors, and the sounds your knitting makes. Notice every detail, and try to notice something you never saw before! The goal in becoming very aware of your knitting, with all of your senses, is to avoid going into autopilot. As you begin to work on your project, avoid allowing your mind to wander or turning on the TV. Just continue to notice as much as you can about your project, putting all of your focus onto your craft. If you realize that your mind has wandered, that’s great! Noticing your thoughts wandering is mindfulness too. Gently bring your attention and focus back to your hands and your knitting.
Another great way to practice mindful knitting is to utilize stitch markers as reminders. I like to use a special stitch marker to remind me to slow down and take a breath. When I get to the end of my round, no matter how far my thoughts have wandered, looking at that stitch marker reminds me to shake out my shoulders, take a deep breath, and return my focus to my craft. The stitch marker you use can be whatever you want it to be, as long as it reminds you to check in with your thoughts, feelings, and body before you start your next round.
Finally, infuse gratitude or affirmation practice into your knitting. Maybe you don’t go out of your way to notice 3 things you’re grateful for every day, but you do sit down to knit every night before dinner. By attaching gratitude practice or an uplifting affirmation to your knitting, it binds the two practices together, ensuring that every time you knit, you’re also mindfully noticing positive elements of your life. You can try to note 3 things you’re grateful for every time you knit. Or perhaps you can state an affirmation every time you get to the end of a row. The goal is to continue returning to these practices every time you knit, with the hope that your knitting practice and gratitude or affirmation practice become intertwined.
The word ‘yoga’ is sanskrit for ‘union.’ That means something sightly different to each individual, but to me, yoga can be a union of mindfulness practice and the everyday, joining together the activities and routines we already love and regularly perform with awareness of the present moment. If you have never practiced mindfulness before, that’s ok! Don’t worry about perfection- there’s a reason mindfulness is called a ‘practice!’ The more you mindfully knit, the more you will notice about your thoughts, the way you hold tension in your body, and your relationship with the craft. Knitting might not be ‘the new yoga,’ but it does offer an amazing, new way for crafters to connect with and practice mindfulness using a hobby they already love.