October 7, 2010

Needles and Nadis: The Common Thread in Knitting and Yoga

photo courtesy of abramsbooks.com

My grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet when I was probably 8 years old. I made a few potholders here and there as a kid, but never anything substantial. About 5 years ago, I picked up my knitting needles again and made scarves and blankets for family and friends. They weren’t anything special, but I found it to be a good way to unwind after work.

One afternoon, as I sat quietly knitting before a yoga class, my teacher approached me and asked me to teach her how to knit. So, the next day, we sat in the empty, dimly lit Chicago yoga studio, and I showed her the basics: casting on, and performing the knit stitch.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I met her before each class and we’d each bring the projects we were working on. I tried to answer her questions as best I could, and within the month she finished her first scarf. The next thing I knew, she was knitting cabled sweaters, socks, etc., and had surpassed my ability to help her. At that point, she sought assistance instead from another of her students, my mom.

That winter, my teacher started a “stitch’n’bitch” group. I joined the group along with a half dozen other students, who had announced that they, too, were knitters. We all met once a month or so, drank tea, talked, and knitted together. We were all women, we all practiced yoga, and we all loved knitting.

Since that time, I have met or known of dozens of people, mostly women, who share a love of and dedication to both knitting and yoga. I have often wondered what it is about these two activities that draws the same people. For me, knitting has always kept my mind busy and leads it away from the dark avenues down which it otherwise tends to drift. Yoga has the same effect, though it takes a different route.

My mom, Dewey, has some serious skills in both knitting and yoga. One of the most enduring images I carry in my head is of my mom, with her slender frame and silver hair, sitting peacefully in lotus pose, every inch of her still except her long fingers swiftly maneuvering around a single piece of yarn. And that single piece of yarn magicly turning into something functional and beautiful.

This weekend, my mom came from Chicago to visit us in Los Angeles, and she brought with her a knitting project (a sweater for my brother). I talked with her about this phenomenon of knitting yogis, and asked her why she thought so many women did both. Dewey’s answer was simple: knitting is meditation. She explained that when she is knitting something for someone, she is constantly thinking about the person for whom she’s knitting.  It’s like a meditation on that person.

It was like a light bulb turned on. I had recently knitted a baby blanket for my new nephew, and I recalled sitting and knitting that blanket, and breathing deeply, and focusing my thoughts on this little baby who was not even born yet. Knitting a big project takes many hours, and for all of those hours, I focused my breath, and focused my mind on this little boy. I thought also of the four adults around this baby (his parents and grandparents), and how he would be raised by the perfect combination of personalities. And so, weaved into that blanket – in addition to yarn – was a conscious breath, peaceful thoughts, warmth, comfort, and love for a little person I hadn’t yet met. It really was a meditation.

In thinking about this post, I did a little research on this topic of yoga and knitting, or meditation and knitting, and found that it is quite expansive. For instance, there are bloggerswho write consistently about yoga and knitting. There are also books devoted to the subject, such as The Knitting Sutra: Craft as Spiritual Practice, by Susan Gordon Lydon, a series called Mindful Knitting, by Tara Jon Manning, and Zen and the Art of Knitting, by Bernadette Murphy. There are also retreats that focus exclusively on yoga and knitting. There are knitting patterns so you can make your own yoga mat bags, or your own version of toe sox. In fact, an online community called Ravelry even has a sub-group called Namaste Knitters. Awesome.

What’s also interesting is that, at least in this country, yoga and knitting are two activities predominantly done by women.  But that’s a whole ‘nother post, Oprah.

Any thoughts, knitting yogis?

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