Knitting for Calmness
CAST OFF YOUR ANXIETIES What do Cara Delevingne (right), Olympian Lizzy Yarnold, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ryan Gosling have in common? Answer: they love knitting. ‘I’m often anxious about racing,’ admits Lizzy, who competes in the skeleton (a sled raced head-first on ice at 80mph). ‘Knitting is very calming. I always have needles and wool in my bag.’
Knitting developed from around the third century AD to make clothes. Today knitting has become more of a hobby than a necessity and, as devotees attest, a comforting activity. An online survey of 3,500 frequent knitters, published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, showed the more they knitted the more calm and happy they felt.
Plying those needles has long been recognised as a therapeutic activity for people who have been through trauma, according to clinical psychologist Dr Patrick Hill. ‘For instance, soldiers who had been shell-shocked in the First World War were set to knitting as part of their recuperation.’ Today, mental health experts agree that knitting offers an effective prescription for a peaceful mind.
The Pain Clinic at the Royal United Hospital, Bath, has run a weekly knitting group since 2006. ‘Knitting can help patients where nothing else does,’ says clinical psychologist Dr Mike Osborn. ‘The gentle meditative repetitive action is ultimately soothing for patients whose bodies are often grossly distorted by pain. It can be very difficult for them to feel relaxed; if you can achieve that – which our patients do through knitting – it is gold dust. It helps patients manage the burden that pain puts on the brain and over time has the potential to improve mobility and reduce the need for medication.’
Knit-and-natter groups on an elder care ward at Southmead Hospital in Bristol have proved so successful that textile artist Ali Brown now has funding for a 12-month project starting this month. She is also running befriending groups on the neonatal ward, where new mums knit for their babies. Knitting has also been shown to help with anorexia and in treating addictions.
The woman who pioneered therapeutic knitting is former NHS physiotherapist Betsan Corkhill, who started the group at Bath. She also founded the website www.stitchlinks.com to provide support and friendship. In her new book Knit For Health & Wellness (£11.99 from www.stitchlinks.com), Betsan explains how neuroscience is beginning to show how knitting may help our brains:
• The repetitive movement promotes the release of calming serotonin, which also lifts mood and dulls pain.
• Making things with our hands activates different brain circuits to, say, office work.
• Two-handed movement across the midline of our bodies is recognised as using a lot of brain capacity, leaving less room for other issues.
• However chaotic our lives, knitting is under our control. It’s a great activity for winter evenings; newbies could take a leaf from Cara’s book and start with thick, bright wool and huge needles.
IF YOU DO ONE THING
‘Walk, walk, walk: it’s the most important exercise for everyone,’ says fitness expert Louise Parker (www.louiseparker.uk.com). Daily walking – 45 minutes if possible – reduces the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers, and it is great for your figure. iPhone owners might like the free Stepz app, which counts your steps. So wrap up warm, put on trainers or rubber-soled boots and stride out; walk upstairs, get a tube/bus two stops away, join the Ramblers – great for socialising too (www.ramblers.org.uk).
‘Never underestimate the power of funky kit to show off,’ says a mother whose scooter-riding eight-year-old loves his Micro Bottle Holder, which fixes easily to the scooter and comes off to take into school. Find bright bottles and holders at www.micro-scooters.co.uk, from £9.95 each.