Our most recent assignment of the Craft-Wisely curriculum was a comprehensive research paper that correlated handcrafting with the discipline of our undergraduate study. Under initial evaluation of the assignment I felt a bit besieged with the concept of having to parallel Biology/Pre-Medical with the seemingly simple act of knitting.
After a few weeks of letting the notion bounce through my thoughts I began to follow the question of why knitting provides its practitioners with an overwhelming sensation of well being. All knitters have experienced the emotion and yet for most, although welcomed, it goes un-researched. I began with a simple evaluation of how one can attribute values to the sensation. The foundation of the sensation, although a simple suggestion, seems to revolve around an easement of stress through elimination of intruding thoughts: a pseudo. In my first bit of research, bounds of material provided specific examples of the therapeutic qualities of knitting, yet none cantilevered into any form of explanation. Further examination of stress relief techniques finally directed me in a suitable direction- the juxtaposition of mind and body through physical and mental techniques of meditation. The research of one particular individual, Herbert Benson, went to dimensions of research that no other individual had even thought pursue. In multiple quantitative studies, he showed the physiological changes that meditation elicited. The easiest way to logically portray the concepts he discovered can be seen through counter evaluation of stress. When an individual crosses a particular stressor, their body sets off a series of reactions that heightens an individual’s awareness and strength, preparing them for a reactive evasion of danger. Although this is one the most innate and simplistic bodily reactions to stimuli, it is an overworked system that taxes the body due to constant stimulation during the constant hustle of life.
So how are we supposed to escape the escape the pounding pressures of life? Knit! Herbert Benson, the same individual who studied the stress response, developed an adverse concept called the relaxation response. This response elicits the reverse physiological response as the fight-or-flight response- lower blood pressure, slower heart rate, and slower breath rate. The body’s hormone levels are calmed. After further exploration as to how the relaxation response is induced, Benson found that repetition- of parse motion or sound- blocked intrusive thoughts and allows individuals to relax. In knitting, as mentioned previously, this escapable mind-clearing phenomenon is the concept I so desperately questioned. According to Benson, the key lies within the repetitive act of knitting. Under further investigation I discovered some research that went hand in hand with Benson’s ideas. This study found that the rhythm of one’s fingers, as long as following an external focus, stimulates the cortex to allow for a greater degree of concentration. I’ll explain how I feel this logically flows with the concept of relaxation but first let me take a side trip into how this cunningly correlates well with our class structure.
Each Craft Wisely class, we, the student, come in and knit for the first fifteen minutes of class. After the fifteen minutes are up, the class is started and we continue our knitting. At the beginning of semester I found it a bit difficult knitting while class discussion was firing around the room. I honestly felt uncomfortable knitting during class despite my highly attentive state of mind. But now, after discovering positive fingertip-cortex paralleled research, I found evidence, and subsequent ease of mind, establishing knitting driven attention peaks.
An increased level of attention logically supports the relaxing nature of knitting because if the mind is heightened to greater state of attention, it must be cleared and free from intruding thoughts. Thus such fingertip-cortex connecting research, through logical deduction, might just lead to the root physiological processes that I have been seeking. Stimulation of the finger nerves may stimulate certain regions of the cortex that in turn elicit the relaxation response where blood pressure decreases, heart rate slows, and reactivity to noreprenephrine decreases- all causing the relaxing sensation experienced while knitting. Although the pathway is not concrete I find it reassuring to be able to identify a scientific basis for knitting induced relaxation, showing that the sensation is not merely a fabricated emotion.