I discovered the meditative qualities of needlework years ago long before I began to practice and teach yoga. There were moments during a stressful work day that I wanted to just go home to work on my latest needle project – a canvas or a sweater. So many books out there now -- just fill in the blank -- Zen and the Art of [place your needlework hobby here] but one book, The Relaxation Response actually proves the meditative qualities when one engages in mindful activities that fully engage us. Relaxation is the opposite of stress, right? We can all relax, so the book claims, when we’re engaged in certain repetitive activities such as jogging, or performing household chores like washing dishes by hand (!), dusting, sweeping and of course, working on our latest needle project. There’s nothing like a difficult needlework project to crowd out the non-stop mental chatter (many yoga teachings describe our minds as a ‘drunken monkey’!) that scolds us from spending time engaged in a hobby.
I once read a quote by Dr. Andrew Weil, “If the mind wants to knit, then knitting will produce happiness, which will in turn lead to a healthier life—it’s just that simple.” What a concept!
Few activities ever brought me to a fully absorbed state of mind – grooming my beloved horse, A.J., practicing yoga and of course, needlework. Why else would we call our needlework our ‘therapy’? Not only do we produce a beautiful work of art when we are through but the musical rhythm of the needle(s) while holding a silken thread in-hand could tranquilize a crazed elephant! After all, no one ever had to force me to finish another row of knitting or needlepoint. Our minds crave peaceful, resting moments, free from the non-stop mental chatter and urgent but unimportant demands of life’s craziness. For years I only knitted with raw, lanolin-laced wools for the simple reason it brought back peaceful memories of my childhood years raised on a small sheep farm. The smell of untreated, unsterilized wool was intoxicating – even the unexpected joy of discovering an occasional burdock between the plies.
In our heart-of-hearts, we know our needlework is less expensive than therapy. And maybe you wonder like I do: What if world leaders picked up their needlework projects during peace negotiations? All right, maybe you’ve never wondered that, but seriously, what if?! If you want to try a little peaceful needlework meditation exercise, I’ve added one below.
MEDITATION EXERCISE: The next time you pick up your needlework, turn off all distractions (TV, music, noise). Move to a comfortable, quiet location that you find calming and supportive. For me, it’s my naturally lit library (sans electronics) gazing over the lake behind my condo, sitting on a beautiful chaise lounge that allows my elbows freedom to float through air. Take a moment to study your work so far. Allow your eyes to absorb the colors completely and then close your eyes and allow your mind to “see” and feel the colors. Maybe assign a feeling to each color (i.e. red = energizes me; blue = calms me; yellow = warms me, etc.) Now, listen for the sound of your natural, everyday breath and notice how you feel once you hear it. Study your breath and without over-efforting, try to make the inhale and the exhale the same length (most of us naturally make one longer than the other. Use the one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, etc. to measure your inhales/exhales). Open your eyes slowly, consciously fluttering your lashes and begin your needlework matching your movements with the evenness of your breath. Continue for 5 minutes. End by thanking your miraculous body for allowing you to participate and experience such a wonderful activity! Repeat as necessary.
Be well. Namaste!
Carol More is a certified yoga instructor and a registered yoga teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio area. She is a Yoga Instructor at Evolution Yoga Studio in Beachwood, Ohio. She has been practicing yoga for more than 10 years and has been a needlepointer since the age of 13. She is currently mired in several unfinished knitting projects. She holds an MBA in systems design and is a project manager consultant. She has lead programs in process design and control, yoga, meditation, natural health, and healing. She offers private yoga coaching and specializes in relating any yoga pose to riding her Harley Davidson motorcycle!
Thank you so much Carol!!