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Why Crafting Is Great For Your Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains

Sarah McKay, MSc, PhD
June 24, 2014
June 24, 2014

Knit one. Purl one. Knit one. Purl one. Knit one. Purl one. The rhythmic and repetitive nature of knitting is calming, comforting and contemplative. It’s not a stretch for you to imagine knitting as a mindfulness practice, or perhaps a form of meditation.

I’m delighted to report that neuroscience is finally catching up on brain health aspects of the trend some have called "the new yoga."

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Research shows that knitting and other forms of textile crafting such as sewing, weaving and crocheting have quite a lot in common with mindfulness and meditation — all are reported to have a positive impact on mind health and well-being.

In an online survey of more 3,545 knitters, by Betsan Corkhill, a UK-based knitting therapist who has done research on the therapeutic effects of knitting, more than half of respondents reported that knitting left them feeling "very happy." And many said that they knitted solely for the purposes of relaxation, stress relief and creativity.

The study found a significant relationship between the frequency of knitting and respondents’ perceived mood and feelings. Frequent knitters (those who knitted more than 3 times a week) were calmer, happier, less sad, less anxious, and more confident.

Corkhill’s study concluded, “Knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to well-being and quality of life.”

Interestingly, the study also found that people who knitted as part of a group were even happier than solo knitters. Knit-ins, stitch ‘n bitch groups, and even scrapbooking parties have many keys of mind and brain health covered.

Here are 10 ways crafting with friends may improve mind and brain wellness:

  1. Mental challenge and problem solving
  2. Social connection
  3. Mindfulness
  4. Development of hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness and fine motor dexterity
  5. Learning and teaching
  6. Focusing attention and thoughts on a task
  7. Encouraging active creativity
  8. Gives a sense of pride and achievement
  9. Teaches patience and perseverance
  10. Facilitates memory formation and retrieval

According to her paper, “The skills and feelings experienced whilst knitting and stitching can also be used to facilitate the learning of techniques, such as meditation, relaxation and pacing which are commonly taught on pain management courses, or in the treatment of depression.”

“Using knitting to achieve a meditative state of mind could enable a much wider population to experience the benefits of meditation, as it doesn't entail having to understand, accept or engage in a prolonged learning period of the practice. It happens as a natural side-effect of knitting.”

Others have likened crafting to entering a state of "flow," what positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes as “a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.”

And, according to Corkhill, even Albert Einstein was reputed to have knitted between projects to "calm his mind and clear his thinking."

Neuroscientists are beginning to understand how mindfulness, meditation and experiencing "flow" impact the brain. Research shows these practices improve depression, anxiety, coping style in the face of adversity, improve quality of life, and significantly reduce stress. All vital for maintaining brain health and well-being.

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Sarah McKay, MSc, PhD author page.
Sarah McKay, MSc, PhD

Sarah McKay, MSc, PhD, is a neuroscientist with a PhD from Oxford University. After moving to Australia in search of sunshine, she spent five years conducting neuroscience research before deciding to follow her bliss of talking about science rather than doing it. Now she combines raising her two little boys on Sydney’s Northern Beaches with writing about science, health and medicine, and blogging about neuroscience. Sarah specializes in breaking down neuroscience research into simple actionable steps to improve brain health. She provides neuroscience education to health and wellness professionals, blogs about intriguing neuroscientists and their work, and runs the Walking Book Club.