The sweat poured down my face as I tried to wrap my arm through my crossed legs, aiming to grasp the hand of my other arm. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? For me, it was — my attempt didn’t begin to match what my yoga instructor was showing us. I smiled through the moisture on my upper lip and reminded myself to breath. Stretch and breath.
It felt so good to be back.
Because of health issues and a busy schedule, it had been months since my last yoga class. Thinking back, I wonder now what was so important that I couldn’t find an hour in my week to do THIS.
Same thing with knitting. Recently, when I picked up my rosewood double-points again (you knitters know what I mean) after a self-imposed hiatus, I had to ask myself “Why?” What was so demanding in my life that I had’t finished the second sock of a pair I started months ago? As I watched my needles forming perfect, orderly rows, I breathed a deep sigh.
It felt good to be back.
Yoga and knitting — if I am away from either discipline for too long, I get out of sorts, out of step with life. I know what affect these activities have on me, but I had no idea that there’s scientific proof that both offer many benefits to our bodies, mind and soul.
According to a report by WebMD, I am just one of nearly 11 million Americans practicing some form of yoga. “Practicing” for me means engaging in exercises that stretch and tone my body while improving my balance. Clearing my mind of stressful thoughts and replacing them with a prayerful focus is as near as I get to “mediation” while I do yoga. Our instructor suggested this week that as we breathe out, our thoughts should be “less of me” and upon breathing in, “more of you”. She shared this after reading scripture.
Spiritual benefits aside, yoga has an important impact on the overall mental and physical health of those who practice regularly. Again, from the doctors at WebMD: “Perhaps one of the most studied areas of the health benefits of yoga is its effect on heart disease. Yoga has long been known to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. A slower heart rate can benefit people with high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke….And yoga has been associated with decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as a boost in immune system function.”
Yoga also relieves symptoms of asthma, back pain, arthritis, insomnia and multiple sclerosis. Some studies suggest that yoga has a positive effect on learning and memory, improves energy and can slow the aging process. And I thought it just made me feel better about myself. Turns out, it does that, too. Improved self-esteem is another proven benefit of practicing yoga — or any form exercise, for that matter.
I was surprised to find out that knitting offers many of the same therapeutic benefits as yoga. Betsan Corkhill, a former physiotherapist, says on her Web site knitonthenet.com that “the rhythmic repetitive movements of knitting…. induce a form of meditation very similar to Mindfulness. Recent research has shown that Mindfulness can be very effective in treating depression and chronic pain. It can also help those who are fit and healthy to combat stress and to manage life’s downs.” The report goes on to say “research has shown that practicing just eight weeks of daily Mindfulness (via knitting) can have a positive effect on brain function and even strengthen the immune system.”
I began knitting when I turned 50 because I figured reading complicated knitting patterns would be good exercise for my brain — and because I wanted to create things for myself and others. Countless scarves, socks and a couple of sweaters later, and I’m convinced that knitting is a relatively inexpensive form of therapy that yields a beautiful reward (most of the time).
Considering that stress is known to contribute to 90 percent of medical conditions, doing anything that can relieve stress is a good thing. For me, knitting and yoga fill the bill.
Now, if I could just find a way to do a “down dog” while knitting that second sock.
Namaste — Peace be with you.