knitting is the new yoga

Knitting and yoga, they go hand in hand.

Knitting and yoga, they go hand in hand.

Or I should actually say #knittingisthenewyoga! What's the scoop behind this popular social media hashtag? Turns out, more than meets the eye...

Popularity Contest

When I first saw #knittingisthenewyoga on Instagram, I chuckled and added it to my mental list of hashtags to use on future posts. What better way to include a little playful stitch and stretch humor to my posts, right? I've used it from time to time, but I started to wonder why yoga was getting the short end of the needle, er.. stick with this hashtag. Has yoga outgrown its cool, hip vibe?

Initially I attributed the hashtag solely to a popularity contest. There's no denying that in recent years, the number of people who practice yoga has grown exponentially. In fact, in a recent survey put out by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, the number of yoga practitioners in the United States in 2016 was 36.7 million - and that's up from 20.4 million in 2012. What's more, is that in addition to those who were already considering themselves as practitioners, 80 million more Americans were expected to try yoga in 2016. Those numbers are staggering.

But knitting is proving to be part of the cool crowd too. A survey by Wool and the Gang (an awesome wool/pattern company modeled around sustainability) in 2015 reported that 53 million Americans and 7.3 million people in the UK are knitting. And guess what? Those numbers are not made up primarily of the 65+ crowd, that knitting is so often grouped with. Younger people are embracing their inner granny and flocking to the hobby en masse. Know what younger people are also spending time with? Social media. Instagram is used primarily by the under 65+ crowd (only 4% of IG users are over 65), hence my preliminary assumption that the use of #knittingisthenewyoga was merely an assumption based upon the rise in popularity of knitting by a younger, cooler crowd.

Am I in the 'cool crowd' now?

Am I in the 'cool crowd' now?

The Relaxation Response 

While the 'cool factor' may be one reason why #knittingisthenewyoga, it turns out that stitch hobbies are also competing with yoga in the 'chill factor.' Studies about knitting's ability to elicit the Relaxation Response have fiber enthusiasts raving about their craft's capacity to induce peace.

To understand the Relaxation Response, let's chat a bit about its opposite. Have you heard of the 'fight or flight' response, also known as 'acute stress response' or hyperarousal? Essentially those terms are used to describe the body's reaction to a real or perceived threat - when the sympathetic nervous system gets activated, increasing blood pressure, elevating heart rate, and triggering rapid breathing, among other things. You know, the functions that would be useful if you were being chased by a tiger, but that only add to a stressful state if a threat is only perceived.

While I don't live in constant fear of tigers, I do deal with some dreadful perceived threats, like needles (of the blood-drawing variety). For some reason, every time I go to get my blood drawn, I experience elements of the acute stress response - my heart feels like it is going to beat out of my chest, I break out into a cold sweat, and I nearly work myself into hyperventilation (and I'm a yogi, I should know better!) None of those bodily reactions serve me in the situation - I don't fight or flee (although sometimes I strongly consider both). But for some reason, this stress response takes over before, during and after a blood draw every single time.  

And that's just it - in this day and age, many people suffer from living at elevated stress levels, eliciting their 'fight or flight' response as their first line of defense. Something as simple as getting blood drawn, for some like me, can have the sympathetic nervous system firing on all levels, looking for the nearest exit. This stress response affects people in many different ways, and by no means do I intend to trivialize it by comparing my experience with getting blood drawn. My point is that living in a hyperaroused state can physiologically affect a person's ability to respond to stressful situations. That's where activities like yoga, meditation, prayer, tai chi and focused breathing come into the picture. These practices are commonly prescribed to help counteract the effects of stress and the fight or flight response. In other words, they are used to prompt the Relaxation Response.

And now you can add knitting to that list. Going back to that survey by Wool and the Gang - 88% of knitters say that they feel less stressed when they knit. Just as yoga's focus on breath and mindful movement helps to elicit the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to lower blood pressure and heart rate and induce a feeling of calmness, so too does the act of knitting. There is a certain meditative quality of performing the same action repeatedly, with focus, as one does when knitting rows. So when you see #knittingisthenewyoga, perhaps it's really in reference to the craft's ability to promote peace and calm among its crowd.

*DISCLAIMER: Now, I'll be completely honest with you here... Both yoga and knitting may elicit the frustration response at first. A newbie to yoga or knitting may find the first experience(s) with the activity (mildly or mostly) confusing/ challenging/ aggravating/ perplexing/ exasperating/ aggravating. It's not uncommon for these hobbies to elevate stress a little bit at first while you navigate the hows. I know for me, this past weekend, I nearly threw a tantrum when I messed up my knitting project. Not exactly the Relaxation Response. But, as I know firsthand from experience with yoga, the statistics show that both activities do have the capacity to induce tranquility over time.

Substitute Stitcher

The more I read about how knitting could promote the Relaxation Response, the more I discovered about knitting's other redeeming health qualities. 

When compared with yoga's long list of benefits it just so happens that knitting also checks off boxes in the ability to help with: pain, depression, addiction, and dementia. Additionally, both yoga and knitting can be social activities, known to increase feelings of community and belonging. And that's not all. In fact, the website Stitchlinks has compiled extensive research from numerous sources about the myriad of positive affects that knitting can have upon one's well-being. In terms of healthcare from a hobby, it looks like yoga isn't the only show in town. Is knitting now replacing yoga as the go-to therapeutic activity for people aiming to improve their physiological, psychological, behavioral, social and creative states? 

The Age Old Question

Maybe I am looking too deeply into this hashtag. While all of the above is true, and there may indeed be a trend toward picking up knitting needles rather than laying down a yoga mat, should I really just take this hashtag at face value? (I've been known to over-complicate things in the past!) 

As far as my Internet searching has uncovered, the exact origin of both yoga and knitting are unknown. Evidence of yoga postures appeared on artifacts that can be traced back to 3000 BC. It looks like the first knit garments came from Egypt around 1000 AD. If those dates are mostly accurate, then one thing is true. Yoga is roughly 5,000 years old, and knitting is approximately 1000 years young. Ergo, knitting is newer than yoga, or, in social media language, #knittingisthenewyoga.

So which is it - has knitting eclipsed yoga as the 'hip' thing to do? Is yoga sharing the stage with it's equally relaxing knit kin? Or is it all just a matter of age? What's your take? Does one theory strike you more than the others as to why #knittingisthenewyoga? Or maybe there are other meanings I haven't even discovered yet? I'm all ears, let me know what you think!

If #knittingisthenewyoga, then it must be that #yogaistheoldknitting, right?!

If #knittingisthenewyoga, then it must be that #yogaistheoldknitting, right?!