Learning to meditate can be a long process, and I think that anything that helps you along the way should be taken advantage of. Knitting is truly how I was able to become a person who meditates. As a teenager, I didn’t really go out of my way to meditate. It wasn’t a ‘cool’ thing to do. But I was a knitter. I found that over the years knitting is what served as my meditation and it helped open me up to some deeper meditations.
In knitting we use needles and notions to help us create beautiful finished objects. For meditation we can use zafu’s (meditation cushions) and mala beads as a guide. Mala beads are traditionally 108 beads on a string. If you’ve been to a yoga class, I can bet you your teacher had a strand on as a necklace or was wearing one as a bracelet. I know I usually do, because you never know when you might want to stop, drop, and meditate. The mala beads are a handy tool to keep you present with your meditation. One approach is you touch each bead and repeat a mantra as you do so. This way you repeat the mantra until the 108 beads have all been touched. Your mantra can be a word or phrase in English or Sanskrit (like ‘Om’) that you repeat over and over.
Why 108 you may ask? Well, 108 is considered an auspicious number. One theory as to why 108 is so important is that the number 1 stands for the universe; 0 stands for humility in spiritual practice; and 8 stands for infinity and timelessness. No matter the true meaning behind the number, it gives a starting place for your meditation. If we are just beginning and we want to know how long we ‘should’ meditate we can use the 108 mala beads as a jumping off point. It is like in knitting when we want to know how many stitches or inches we need for a cowl, there are some basic rules of thumb. For a beginner making her first cowl one might plan for 26 inches circumference for a single-wrap cowl or 56 inches for a double-wrap cowl.
Not to be cheesy, but I think that knitting in the round is just the bee’s knees! It is by far my favorite way to knit, and I have an absurd number of finished cowls to show for it. Each knitter has her own preferred way to knit and each person who meditates has their prefered meditation method. Since I love all things in the round, I have created a Mala Cowl knitting pattern where the 108 stitches represent the 108 mala beads for meditation. So, each time you knit a row you are in your meditation.
You may be thinking, but ‘how can I meditate while knitting?’ Well, step 1 would be to just try. There is no magic to it, beyond trying to stay conscious and aware. Don’t be hard on yourself, it takes practice. When someone first tries to start meditation, using mala beads, or a knit pattern as a mantra can help you get used to the meditation practice. It can be a struggle to quiet the mind during meditation, so repetition of a mantra is a great way to start. Be easy on yourself and focus on concentration. That is how it all begins; we learn one pointed focus that eventually takes us to a deeper state of meditation.
Here is a short description on how you could turn your knitting of the Mala Cowl (or any craft project you are starting) into a mindfulness meditation. This step by step process assumes that the yarn has been picked and a gauge swatch has already been made and you are ready to go!
Knitting as a Meditation Step by Step:
- Gather your supplies. Knitting pattern, needles, yarn. Notions. Eye glasses, water, and anything else you like handy while you knit.
- Pick a spot. Choose where you will start your project and have a comfortable seat. A seat where you will be able to have a tall spine and keep your knitting and pattern in an easy to reach spot.
- Sit tall. Place everything off to the side and set up for a short meditation. If you are in a chair, sit with your feet flat on the floor. Have a tall spine and take a few deep breaths. Ask yourself what your intention is, or hopes are for knitting this pattern? Who is it for? Are you excited? Bring in feelings of support and love for yourself or whoever you are giving the finished object to. Let the questions fall away and for 2-5 minutes allow your inhales and exhales to ground you and prepare yourself for this new endeavor.
- Plan ahead. Read through the pattern start to finish and make notes in places where you may have a question or two. If after the meditation and reading through the pattern you feel grounded, then cast on for your project.
- Start the flow. By now you have your stitches cast on and your foundation is set. Roll back your shoulders and take a deep inhale, then exhale and begin your stitches. Using each stitch as you would a mala bead, repeat your mantra. So, if you are knitting a rib pattern in the round your mantra would be ‘knit’, ‘purl’, ‘knit’, ‘purl’, and so on for 108 stitches.
- Inhale and exhale. While repeating your mantra keep your breath easy, no need to force it or control it, but keep steady even breathing flowing as you go.
- One row at a time. If you are in no rush to complete your project you could knit one row a day as your meditation. There is no required amount of time you need to spend meditating so the beauty of knitting rows of 108 stitches is you can determine how long you will meditate by the number of rows you do. (If you don’t have time to complete one row in a sitting, don’t fret, you still have meditated using your mantras. We don’t all have a ton of time to knit or meditate so take what you can. Quality is more important than quantity here.)
- Repeat. As you knit and repeat your mantra or stitches you may find that your mind has other ideas and it starts to wander off. You begin to think about the dishes that need cleaning or laundry that needs folding. There is no need to stop your knitting and tackle those tasks, remind yourself that you are here now to reset your mind and be mindful. Let the thoughts flow and bring yourself back to your stitches.
- Bind off. No rush, but when you get to the end of your cowl (or project) and are ready to bind off, you can use your bind off as your mantra as well. For example, I enjoy using a stretchy bind off, so my mantra is: “K2tbl and then slip stitch back to left needle”. I repeat that to myself as I go along. Not only does it keep me from making a mistake, but it keeps my mind in the present moment by focusing on what is at hand. Now binding off 108 stitches might not happen in one sitting and that is okay. Place it down in a place where it won’t be disturbed and come back to it when you can. This helps to establish your knitting meditation spot and you know you can always come back to it. Back to a place of peace and calm.
About the Writer: Liza Laird
Liza is a spinner and knitter of wool and a lover of handstands. Liza started knitting at the wee age of 8 and hasn’t stopped since.
She received formal yoga training in her early 20s in NYC as a 500 HR Registered Yoga Teacher and an 800 HR Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. She taught at studios for nearly a decade in NYC and Boston, like Yoga Works and Harlem Yoga Studio.
Liza leads yoga retreats worldwide in places like Bali, Thailand, Italy, Peru, and locally in Vermont and Texas. Liza also hosts workshops on yoga and knitting in the eastern United States when she’s not taking care of her husband and daughter, Tom and Isa, or her dog, Cosmo.
Liza Laird is the co-founder of Ragline Knits with her friend Kate Madden and you can check out their pattern designs and retreat info at www.raglineknits.com.