Over the last couple of weeks, I've found myself knitting much more than I have done for a while and not just because of my newly-discovered rather long list of WIPs!
Coincidentally, I've had a lot of conversations this week with people about how the rhythm of the knitting is soothing, and knitting has been something that I've not just wanted to do, I've needed to do. My head has been stuffed with unwritten lists, worries, jobs that jostle for first place on my mental to-do list and constant chatter from my "monkey mind" which will just not shut up. Have you heard of the term "monkey mind" before? It's origins are in Buddhism and refer to a mind that is constantly jumping from one thing to another, unsettled and unable to relax. (Incidentally, here's today's useless fact: did you know that I have an 'A' Level in Buddhism? Technically, the course was Philosophy and Religion but the religion part was Buddhism and I loved learning about it; I have a lot of time for that particular religion.)
For some reason, it seems that our monkey minds are attracted to the parts of our bodies where something is happening, for example our hands when we are knitting or crocheting, our feet when we are running, our fingers when our hands are dangled over the side of a chair ... and once you have captured your monkey mind's interest, the chatter stops and the rest of your mind is free to become calm. Picking up my knitting as often as I can has done just that for me and I've felt much better as a result.
It sounds a bit crazy, doesn't it? However, it works every time, and it's not just crafting that causes this effect. My theory is that is anything with a regular rhythm to it; I believe that there is something in our brains that responds to a beat - think of the stage hypnotists with a pendulum swinging in front of someone's eyes. Or the ticking of a clock, or a heartbeat, or music of any genre; the easiest to listen to always has a regular beat. The sound of a runner's feet slapping on the floor or the thundering hooves of a racehorse - even the "crazy cat lady" who is comforted by the rhythmic stroking of a purring animal. The list goes on and on, and if you think about it, it's always the regular sounds or movements that make us most relaxed. We feel calm and often more able to cope with what the world is throwing at us.
Still think it sounds crazy? Well, here's my little bit of proof. I have reached "that age" where my infrequent visits to our local health centre always involve a blood pressure check. I have what's known as "white coat syndrome" which means that whenever there's a nurse with a blood pressure monitor heading towards me, my blood pressure shoots up. Without fail. And it's such a pain as I know that usually my blood pressure is absolutely fine. Luckily, now the nurses at the health centre do too. Quite by chance, I discovered that a couple of minutes' worth of knitting (socks = portable project, ideal for waiting rooms - have I mentioned that before?! J ) drops my blood pressure dramatically - so much so that the nurses even joke about whether I've been knitting before I go in to see them now!
I may have mentioned the benefits of this small portable socky project so often that a certain crocheting friend of mine is even knitting her own pair socks now. I have it on good authority that she won't be hanging up her hook permanently, but as a change (and a chance to swell the contents of her sock drawer) she's giving it a go, and taking to it like a duck to water. We're a versatile lot, us crafters!
It does make you wonder why it's taken so long for the scientific world to catch up with the idea that something with a regular, monotonous rhythm to it is good for us. Woolly crafts aren't the answer for everyone (my sister-in-law finds that knitting makes her more stressed, not less!) but they are for a great many people and surprisingly, it's not something that's well-known. I think the quality of the yarn that we're working with makes a difference too. Beautiful hand-dyed yarns, or yarns that contain a percentage of a natural wool or fibre are far more satisfying to work with than squeaky super-cheap acrylic. I feel that they connect us to nature in a positive way. Does that affect the quality of the well-being effect? Perhaps not, as I believe it's the rhythms that soothe our brains most strongly, but feeling that connection to the origins of the yarn reminds us that we are not an isolated part of the "sheep-to-shawl" process.
The beneficial effects of knitting is something that's interested me for a while and I'm delighted that there is progress on recognising crafting - and woolly crafting in particular - as a positive way to improve well-being without necessarily resorting to medication. Betsan Corkhill has been working with therapeutic knitting groups within the NHS since 2005 and you can read more about that and the studies she has been involved with here. Alison Mayne is currently working on a PHD on the effects of well-being and yarn-related crafts. She has a Facebook group here for people to share their experiences and is also conducting research interviews to support her work if you think you might be able to help. All of this information is going to add to the collective knowledge of how to help people's well-being and this can only be a good thing.
Personally, I think the well-being benefits are something that we (crafters) have known about for a long time without really thinking about the scientific implications, but it's good to know that we have such a powerful tool in our project bags! What are you waiting for? Cast on!