How knitting can strengthen the connection between the right and left hemispheres of your brain.
The Knit Vibe, by Vickie Howell, shares contributions from knitters from all walks of life. Here, neuroscientist Chelsea Dekryuff shares how knitting and crocheting affect the brain.
The Neuroscience of Creativity
As a psychotherapist who specializes in applied neuroscience and mindfulness, one of my areas of interest is helping artists better access their creativity. If you’re a knitter or crocheter and you want a little bit more creativity in your work, if you feel you’ve reached a plateau, or if it’s just kind of stopped being fun, let me give you a few ideas about how you might think about your brain differently to better help you access that creativity. To begin, let’s talk about your brain and where creativity comes from.
When we think about the brain, we have your right hemisphere and your left hemisphere. The right side of your brain is generally where you have music, an appreciation of beauty, art, spirituality, sexuality, memory. It’s where all of these kinds of mysterious and more abstract parts of you exist.
The left side of your brain is where we register linear time, language, deadlines, categories, procedures, and getting things just right. It’s also where we have perfectionism. Sometimes when people are engaged in creative acts, they’ll get so caught up in having it be just perfect that they’re not even in the part of the brain where the good ideas are coming from.
Consider this: Next time you’re working on a project and perhaps your gauge is off or the pattern just isn’t quite right, if you can cut yourself a little slack and have a little bit more fun and just play with it, and not be so caught up in getting it perfect, then you’ll likely notice better ideas presenting themselves and your whole entire experience becoming more enjoyable.
(Check out our article "How Doodling Lights up the Brain.")
The Mindfulness of Knitting
Mindfulness is a present-moment awareness of your experience, as it arises, without judgment. This process relates easily to needlework. For example, as you’re knitting one, purling two, you’re paying attention to the pattern that you’re using, and hopefully not judging each moment as good or bad, right or wrong, just paying attention to that moment.
The benefits of mindfulness, and being in that state, are many. There’s lots of neuroscience that’s been done on what happens to the brain when you’re in this present moment. For one thing, the part of your brain, your corpus callosum, that connects your right and left hemispheres gets thicker and denser, so you’re able to go back and forth between both sides of your brain more readily.
The fibers in your prefrontal cortex, which is long-term consequences, strategy, problem solving—that’s the part of you that allows you to play chess better than your cat. It’s also the part of your brain that allows for emotional regulation, and empathy, your ability to connect with other people.
All of those parts of your brain grow, so the act of being mindful is something that changes the shape of your brain. We usually think of our brain as something static, and it’s not. Just like you can increase the size of your biceps by curling a dumbbell, the act of bringing your attention from the past or future, back to the present moment, actually changes the structure and shape of your brain, and allows you to calm down and reason better.
With knitting or crocheting, I recommend choosing a pattern that’s just challenging enough to keep you engaged, but not so challenging as to cause frustration. By doing this, and if you can use your stitching as a way to focus yourself in that moment, then you’re going to do a lot for your brain!
Chelsea Dekryuff is a knitter, psychotherapist, life coach, and spiritual director in private practice in Austin, Texas.
Excerpted from The Knit Vibe by Vickie Howell. Abrams Books 2019. Reprinted with permission.