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Stitch Away Stress by Knitting in the Rivertowns

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March 4, 2020

by Annabelle Allen – 

Knitting dates back to the fifth century. For close to 1,500 years people have knit clothes for sustainability, creativity, and basic human necessity. Yet in this web-driven, social-media crazed time, it seems almost counter-intuitive that such an ancient practice is experiencing a sweeping resurgence in the rivertowns and far beyond, as people whose fingers might otherwise be tapping out tweets are suddenly stitching sweaters and scarves.

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“People think it’s little old grandmas who knit. But if that were true, my business would die out,” said Elise Goldschlag, owner of the Flying Fingers Knitting Shop in Tarrytown.

Knitting is not just trendy and fashionable. Experts and health professionals say it can bring profound health benefits to your body and mind.

Modern day stresses are varied and many. Anxiety affects 40 million adults in the United States —18 percent of the population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. More than 15.7 million other Americans battle depression. Researchers believe that knitting can be an accessible tool that helps relieve these universal stressors.

Betsan Corkhill, author of the book Knit for Health and Wellness, writes about the power of knitting in transforming lives, helping to alleviate a host of emotional and mental-health burdens. Betsan’s findings show that when the brain and body work in harmony, the mind can slow down.

Alton Barron, orthopaedic surgeon and president of the New York Society for Surgery of the hand, said that using your hands meaningfully triggers healthy engagement and activity in about 60 percent of your brain.

Carrie Barron, a psychiatrist with Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, credits knitting to alleviating anxiety and depression. Doctors around the world are catching on to the health benefits that picking up a pair of knitting needles brings. People in the rivertowns are as well.

Claudia Stoltman, a yoga instructor at Sacred Spirit Yoga in Dobbs Ferry, looks to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into her courses. She encourages people to slow down and become more aware of their body and breath.

“Breathing naturally allows us to slow down, and be more present and proactive,” Stoltman said, adding that knitting can bring a similar kind of mindfulness to a person. “I think it is a calming activity. Anything that requires focus and mindfulness is calming, because we have to focus in, and we can’t be pulled by many different thoughts going on in our minds. We’re forced to come into the present activity, the present moment. And I think there’s something about working with one’s hands that allows people to feel connected.”

Goldschlag has been knitting since she was five years old. She explained that knitting is a different kind of exercise that brings the same mental and emotional effects as running or yoga. “It helps you focus, said Goldschlag. “There is something very zen about it.”

She also shared that she has customers coming in with the beginnings of arthritis, and their doctors said, “Keep your hands moving go knit!”

The Observatory Shop, a knitting store located in Hastings-on-Hudson, opened in October 2018. Amanda Hsiao, owner of the Observatory Shop, shared that the town has taken to it, forming friendships and community within the shop.

“I have everybody from high school to 99 years old enter the shop,” said Hsiao. She also shared that knitting can be a portable escape for those who take up the hobby. “For me it’s soothing, it is definitely an escape. It’s very good for your brain.”

Outside of the rivertowns, knitting is being used all around the world to help bring people healthier lives. Knitting Behind Bars teaches inmates to knit. The program’s co-founder, Lynn Zwerlin, said that knitting helps bring the inmates focus and patience. Knit to Quit, a program started in Canada, looks to empower smokers to break their smoking habits. Yarn Alive, a knitting group in Shichigahama, Japan, has knit together since the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The members all lost their homes to the disaster.

Knitting allows us to slow down. To interact with every fiber of the sweater, knot in the thread, needle in the hand. Our world is fast paced and asks us to move faster, every day. Once we do XYZ we will be happy. Once we make more money and get that job and go to Vegas, we will be happy. Knitting however asks us to find fulfilment in breath and creativity. In stillness and hobby. To build harmony in our minds. This ancient hobby born out of necessity could be exactly what we all need.

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