Knitting Benefits

The Health Benefits of Knitting

originally taken from The Times Online

Teenagers in stitches
by Lucy Broadbent

A new craze for knitting among US teens is having amazing health benefits

Jennifer Ashling, a high school student, was never destined to make it to college. She was always too distracted and disruptive in class. Then she took up knitting. Her concentration and her grades improved, and now she’s on a diploma course.

Bobbi Sanders was a teenage gang member when his attention deficit disorder was diagnosed he was unable to focus on anything. He, too, took up knitting and he hasn’t been in detention for over a year. Carol Grimaldy suffered post-traumatic stress after her Manhattan school was evacuated during the September 11 attacks. She joined a knitting club and the nightmares began to stop, and the panic attacks.

For knitting hitherto the preserve of grannies, the occasional vicar and ladies of leisure has become hip among teenagers in the US. And as its popularity has grown, so have the tales of its extraordinary health benefits. So convinced are they of its power as an aid to concentration that many US schools are encouraging children to knit during class. “The general perception is that if a kid is knitting, they’re not paying attention, but they are listening,” says Devorah Zamansky, the assistant principal at the Manhattan Centre for Science and Mathematics, where pupils are allowed to knit and purl while attending lessons. “The kids will sit with a pen and paper by their side, and will put down their knitting to write a note or to raise their hand. You can really see it helping them to focus, particularly the hyper kids.”

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Knitting has also proved to be a miracle panacea for many other teenage ills. “People are calling it cheap therapy,” says Maureen Lasher, a co-author of Teen Knitting Club. Together with Jennifer Wenger and Carol Abrams, Lasher set out to write a knitting book with simple patterns for teenagers but in talking to teenagers about their knitting experiences she discovered hundreds of stories of knitting’s curative properties and how teenagers were using it as a de-stressing tool. “We heard from a girl, given only a short time to live, who learnt to knit in hospital. Now she’s in remission from cancer,” Lasher says. “Another girl whose mother died when she was 11 wrote to tell us that whenever she feels upset about it, she knits and it makes her feel better. A latch-key kid wrote that when he comes home from school and he’s all alone he can’t stop fidgeting. He says that knitting calms him down.

“Then there are all the kids who took up knitting after 9/11. The repetitive action of knitting makes people feel good; it acts as a de-stresser for everyone not just teenagers. But teenagers often have to deal with a lot of stress and it’s not always easy for them to handle it. This is something that really seems to work for them.”

Heather Ordover is an English teacher who was evacuated from the High School for Leadership and Public Service in Manhattan on September 11. To deal with her own posttraumatic stress after the attacks, a friend suggested that she take up knitting. Her students asked her to teach them and before long she had a bustling knitting club in a school where all the students had been in shock.

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“A lot of the kids wouldn’t go and see a counsellor. But they liked sitting in a group with a grown-up and knitting,” Ordover says. “And word spread fast because soon everyone wanted to join. I think the kids felt they were in a safe place where they could casually talk and they’d bring up stuff that was frightening or bothering them. They all told me that the knitting made them feel calmer. It stopped their panic attacks. And it worked for the boys, too. They liked knitting these cool hats, and they’d really be proud to tell their friends that they’d made them themselves.”

Britain is equally in the grip of a knitting craze. There are more than five million knitters in the UK, says the British Hand Knitting Confederation, and many attend knitting clubs or swap patterns via the internet. According to a study by the internet search engine Yahoo!, websites connected to knitting have experienced a 50 per cent increase in hits in recent years.

“I don’t think its health benefits have been looked into here yet, but it won’t surprise anyone who already knits,” says Juliet Bernard, a spokeswoman for Rowan Yarns, a yarn company that hosts its own international knitting club with more than 10,000 members.

Bernard used to suffer from panic attacks when she travelled on trains and found that when she picked up her knitting, they stopped. So she persuaded a psychologist friend to conduct an experiment on her. “My friend had a machine which measures brain waves,” Bernard says. “When we are active, our brains show beta waves; when we are meditating or doing something soothing and repetitive, our brains show alpha waves. We discovered that my brain shows far stronger alpha waves when I am knitting than when I am doing yoga or meditating.”

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Clinical studies have found that the repetitive action of knitting creates a calming effect. As well as aiding teenagers at school, US doctors have discovered that it has helped people to overcome insomnia, infertility and alcoholism and also to give up smoking. “When the body is under stress, it’s physiological response is called fight or flight,“ says Dr Herbert Benson, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the author of The Relaxation Response. “The body puts out adrenalin which heightens metabolism, raises blood pressure and, in the long term, that can lead to anger, depression, hostility, insomnia, infertility and heart attacks. It leads to 60 to 90 per cent of all visits to doctors, and there is no drug or surgery that can take care of this.

“But the body also has an inbuilt relaxation response. When you bring about this response you are essentially blocking the stress hormones, adrenalin and noradrenalin. Slower brain waves also occur. It’s fairly straightforward. When you do something meditative like knitting, you decrease metabolism, you decrease heart rate, blood pressure and decrease the rate of breath.”

“The repetitive practice breaks the train of everyday thought and allows the body to remember a quiet state. And this has been proven over and over.”

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