This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 30, 3014.
Patients in hospitals and rehab centers are turning to needles for relaxation and mental health – knitting needles, that is.
There’s the Wounded Warrior knitting group at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. And at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., Project Knitwell teaches patients and staff to knit. Research there showed knitting reduced oncology nurses’ fatigue and burnout rates.
Kitting is included in some smoking-cessation programs and rehabilitation clinics, and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco offers a knitting class for young patients and parents.
Why knitting? The rhythmic motions engage both hands and many parts of the brain, distracting patients from worry or pain, according to research from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. The quiet repetition helps the body relax, dropping a knitter’s heart rate and blood pressure, slowing breathing and decreasing stress hormones. A 2011 Mayo Clinic study showed crafts like knitting help seniors reduces the risk of dementia by keeping their minds sharp.
Palo Alto resident Liat Gat, 31, says knitting saved her life. At age 25, she rediscovered the craft while in treatment for an eating disorder and helped teach other patients. After rehab, she taught classes at a local yarn shop, and she’s since created a blog, Knit Freedom With Liat, that features instructional videos and project patterns.
“I get comments from so many viewers who say knitting saved their sanity when they were hospitalized, or knitting helped them recover their motor functions after a brain injury,” Gat said. “Knitting is a chance to be productive and work on something beautiful. It’s like meditation. Like a calming balm for the brain.”