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Knitting: A Gateway to Mindfulness

Knitting: A Gateway to Mindfulness

If you're reading this, the chances are we don't need to convince you of the benefits of a healthy yarn stash. Snuggling under chunky knit blankets, wrapping up in colourful scarves, and bracing for winter in an oversized woolly jumper are all fabulous moments to enjoy (made all the more enjoyable when we’ve knitted them ourselves!) as the evenings draw in. But actually, there's something even more precious that hand-knitted hat has to offer... and that's the knitting process itself.

One man who can truly vouch for that is James McIntosh, founder of McIntosh, the award-winning natural-fibre yarn and well-being brand, and passionate advocate for the incredible benefits investing in a mindful practice like knitting can bring to our lives.

At 35, James McIntosh was diagnosed with a moderately severe depressive episode that left him experiencing panic attacks and anxiety. Desperately seeking a path forward, James turned to knitting and discovered that for him, it became a successful way to combat his anxiety, and improve his mental wellbeing. You can read James's full story here.

On his journey out of depression, James lovingly labelled the practice 'Knititation®,' and today, it is his passion and purpose to share the wellness benefits of ethical and sustainable knitting with everyone.

Alongside Dr Thomas Ernst, Fellow of The Royal College of Physicians, James has poured his heart and soul into the development of a product range that people can enjoy in so many more ways than one - yarns that are better for the planet, and that advocate for a creative route to a more mindful lifestyle for everyone.

What Exactly Is Mindfulness?

At Deramores, we're firm believers in the immense power that slowing down, and allowing ourselves to indulge in those absorbing moments of creativity, can bring... but it's not just because we're knitting obsessed. The concept of mindfulness is about 8,000 years old, pre-dating all religions, and was first cultivated by the yogis, but has seen a resurgence in popularity and precedence in recent times. Today, mindfulness-based interventions are becoming more and more commonly turned to as methods of addressing mental health and wellbeing challenges.

But what does it mean to be 'mindful'? Definitions can vary, but a moment of mindfulness can be considered as one in which a person is fully present in a moment - a moment in which neither past upsets nor future anxieties are given the headspace they require to run away with our thoughts. Some call it mindfulness, others call it ‘flow’. Some view it as a form of meditation.

We were lucky enough to spend the afternoon discussing all things mindfulness with both James and Dr Thomas, who explained how Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) can offer huge advantages to those suffering from stress and anxiety, by allowing the brain an opportunity to relax in the moment, rather than getting stuck in a loop perpetually seeking solutions to stressors and worries.

Dr Thomas says: “The main reason to knit is for yourself. Our brains use negative symptoms to help us.” He recommends you “notice stress, don’t stop it, just knit noticing that you’re running on stress, and your brain will slow itself down”.

Whichever way you look at it, there’s one idea you need to get to grips with before you can truly appreciate all the potential joy on offer when it comes to an afternoon spent knitting...

Clue: It’s not all about the knitting...

Knitting as a Mindfulness Practice

If you've ever felt yourself lost in the calm repetitiveness of a knitting project, then it's possible you've already experienced that magical, mindful state. Knitting places you in a moment of time, where you can allow yourself to become fully absorbed by the activity in front of you… with no concern for a deadline, a purpose, or a problem. It provides you with a window of opportunity to at once become both fully immersed in something.

There's a distinct kind of peace and contentment to be found within the joy of getting lost in a knitting pattern, that can be hard to come by these days, thanks to the fast-paced and increasingly digital ways in which we approach our day-to-day lives.

The beauty of knitting, and its untapped power as a method for discovering real mindfulness, lies in its repetitive and rhythmic simplicity... and the fact that you simply can't steer two knitting needles and operate your mobile phone at the same time!

Knitting - 1; Social media - 0.

Knitting requires the unique yet powerful combination of focus and calming repetition that envelopes us in the moment and enables us to indulge in an immersive episode of creativity that it is difficult for distractions to penetrate. Being within your own body in the present moment of knitting rather than distracting oneself within one's mind is the process of mindfulness.

Learn more about Mindfulness here

The Benefits of Knitting as a Path to a More Mindful Way of Life

When we met James, he explained how powerful a part the meditative act of knitting played in his recovery, and how it inspired him to create a yarn brand that would help people to truly enjoy the experience as he did.

Of course, for those who are entirely new to knitting, there is a learning curve that requires concentration and perseverance... but it is entirely possible that the rewards thereafter could include health benefits such as a lowered heart rate, lower blood pressure, and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol - learn more about the benefits of mindfulness-based therapies and MBSR here: peer-reviewed study & MBT review.

The repetitive motions involved in crafts such as knitting could help to induce a state of deep relaxation likened to that which we may experience during yoga or meditation, as well as physiologically helping to quiet our body's natural flight or fight response (by activating the parasympathetic nervous system) to help leave you feeling calmer.

A UK study, presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the British Pain Society, on a group of volunteers suffering from chronic pain also reported that activities involving repetitive hand motions may actually help to reduce awareness of pain, by limiting the brain's capacity to register pain signals as well as encouraging the release of calming serotonin.

Let's not forget about the obvious benefit that other mindfulness practices lack, too - you'll have something tangible (and super cosy!) to show for your efforts, every time you complete a pattern. Not only will the cumulation of these handmade projects help to solve some winter worries - think warm handmade blankets for the sofa, and a super soft snood to make a brisk morning walk that much more enjoyable - but you can enjoy a well-earned self-esteem boost, knowing that you created those gorgeous goodies yourself!

New to Knitting for Mindfulness? Tips on Getting Started

Knitting is a rhythmic and repetitive practice - use this to your advantage when it comes to adopting a more mindful approach. You could use coming to the end of each row as a reminder to pause, breathe and bring your focus fully to the moment in which you find yourself.

As each row concludes, try engaging your senses to really ground yourself in the here and now. What does the chair feel like beneath you? What sounds can you hear - within your own home or from the street outside? Take this moment to check in with your body; don’t try to release or “remedy” this tension, just notice it, as in Mindfulness the brain will find a way to self-solve the issue without you having to do anything to “release” this tension.

Remember that the path to mindfulness is through valuing the moments within the journey, not the end destination. Don't rush to complete your project because you're focused only on wearing it when it's finished, but relish each stitch as part of the creative process. Watch how the yarn stretches and moves as you do so.

Ultimately, your journey to a more mindful way of life, it's all about finding the right intervention that works for you. James McIntosh found his in knitting, which is why he and Dr Thomas are so passionate about McIntosh Yarns today. Find the practice that works for you, and if you’re not sure if knitting is right for you, well, why not give it a try?

As James says: “Knitting alone won't solve the world’s problems, but Knititation may just help you to deal with yours.”