Cast On … And Cast Away Stress

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This article has been reproduced by kind permission of The Mail on Sunday YOU Magazine.

The email from my friend Rose that arrived one Monday recently was headed ’I LOVE Knitting!’. She’d volunteered to trial the calming potential of a ‘Simple Knitting’ weekend in Cornwall. Like many, she was drawn to the idea of meditation for its stress-relieving effect but found it ‘tricky in practise’. Knitting, however, has proved a ‘perfect way to switch off and relax’.

Run by knitting expert Erika Knight at the Bethruthan Steps Hotel in Mawgan Porth, the two-day workshop was ‘the ultimate wellbeing retreat’. Although a total knitting novice and self-confessedly cack-handed, Rose easily mastered casting on, then plain and purl – and started on a simple pattern. ‘Erika told us there’s no need to make a jersey to enjoy knitting: simply creating texture and playing with colour can be deeply fulfilling. More experienced participants started with stripey tea cosies, but I just made an egg cosy.’

Rose found it deeply relaxing. ‘As Erika says, knitting can be summed up by the simple line “in, over, under, off’, which I repeated in my mind like a meditative mantra.’ Knitting can be very companionable as writer Jo Fairley, who’s a longtime member of a Monday Knit Night group, knows. ‘It’s such a nice way to spend time with friends – whether you chat or sit in comfortable silence. It feels really ancient – as if women have been sitting in a circle doing this for millennia. It just all feels very right.’

The health benefits of knitting – notably reducing stress and anxiety, and alleviating depression and intractable pain – are promoted by former NHS physiotherapist Betsan Corkhill whose work I wrote about on December 14th 2008. After discovering the effects of knitting and cross stitching, Betsan set up a knitting group in the Chronic Pain Unit at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, and founded Stitchlinks (stitchlinks.com), which aims to provide support and friendship through therapeutic knitting and stitching worldwide.

Says Betsan: ‘The rhythmic repetitive movements induce a form of meditation similar to mindfulness – that pleasant
state of mind when you’re existing “in the moment”, not mulling over the past or fretting about the future. Knitters find the automaticity enables them to ”zone out” – and escape into the sanctuary of a quiet mind.’ It can also help anyone giving up damaging addictions such as smoking or alcohol cravings.

Erika Knight compares knitting to Sudoku: ‘the problem-solving of knitting is very involving’. In 2009, a group of 38 women with anorexia nervosa at a specialized eating disorder unit in Canada, were given knitting lessons and free access to supplies. Over two thirds (74 per cent) said it lessened the intensity of their fears and thoughts and cleared their minds of eating disorder preoccupations, and had a calming and therapeutic effect. There may be several different ways this happens but pain specialist Monica Baird from the Royal United Hospital in Bath and other experts are certain there’s a neurochemical effect on the brain: ‘it undoubtedly changes brain chemistry for the better, possibly by decreasing stress hormones and increasing feel-good serotonin and dopamine.’

The highlight of Rose’s weekend was finishing her green egg cosy sitting on the Bethruthan Steps’ terrace with the sun on her face. ‘The rhythm of the waves breaking on the beach and the gentle clicking of needles was mesmerising. Now after a long day, I look forward to picking up my needles and wool. Quite simply, knitting makes me feel good.’

Erika Knight is determined to teach the world to knit – starting early. Together with Women’s Institute knitters, she’s now going into primary schools in Brighton where she lives. ‘I believe children should learn craft skills in school. Young boys are often resistant at first, but if you tell them it’s ‘soft engineering’, it changes their whole concept!’

The next Simple Knitting course with Erika Knight is on 11th Nov – 13th Nov. £264 for a two night break, including dinner and lunch. bedruthan.com/breaks

It’s the bee’s knees
A reader praises Egyptian Magic All-Purpose Skin Cream, with olive oil, bees wax, honey, bee pollen, royal jelly and bee propolis. ‘I use it on my little girl’s eczema and to tame her unruly curly hair, on my chest to calm skin burnt during radiotherapy. It’s worked wonders on a surgical scar and faded stretch marks!’ Egyptian Magic, £25.50 for 4oz, from Victoria Health.

Cotton on to…
Known for nature-inspired beauty, skincare and home wares, Rituals has added home and yoga wear. Our tester loved the butter-soft 100 per cent organic cotton hamman trousers (fab for yoga), leggings, night-shirts and tunics. Also great for travelling in comfort, she says. From Rituals, ukritualsstore.com, and at Rituals stores

Book of the week: Coeliac Disease – What You Need To Know (Sheldon Press, £7.99)
As many as one person in 100 is thought to be suffering from this autoimmune condition triggered by gluten, and Alex Gazzola’s book, published to coincide with Coeliac Awareness Week (16-20 May) will help those anxious about the condition to understand more about it. Chapters on symptoms, diagnosis and testing are followed by practical advice on managing the disease, including the emotional and psychological effects – an area too often overlooked.

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