Knitting your way to a healthier, happier mind

What is the connection between knitting and neuroscience? The majority of people would not think that knitting and neuroscience have much in common. One involves yarn and needles, and the other is the study of the nervous system. Research reveals that knitting and yarn crafts, along with other meditative exercises, can activate areas of the mind that help to generate calmness and improve emotional processing and decision-making.

A study from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom also revealed that knitting had significant social and psychological benefits. A survey of 3,545 knitters around the world found that those who knit for relaxation, stress reduction, and creativity had higher cognitive function, better social contact, and improved communication.

Knitting made them happier. A homemade scarf or jumper will keep you warm and beat the winter chills.

Neural Knitworks is a project that was developed in 2014 for National Science Week. It allows communities to engage with these findings. It has been so successful that it has led to hundreds of knit-ins across the country in remote Indigenous communities, regional towns, libraries, galleries, and schools.

Each knit-in follows a simple pattern: Participants learn to knit or crochet woolen neuronal structures while an expert discusses brain and mental health. Topics include how neurons function, the effects of cannabis on the brain, how to nurture adolescent minds, the impact of dementia on neural paths, neuroplasticity, and healthy brain aging.

Workshops were held for preschoolers and retirees, as well as those suffering from dementia and depression. Students, mental health patrons of libraries, university staff, and scientists have all participated. Expert guests include dementia caretakers, mental health workers, and university researchers.

At a recent knitting-in at the Redfern Community Centre in Sydney, Ian Roberts, a former Sydney Rooster, spoke about his career as a footballer who suffered concussions. Fans made footy neurons with team colors to bring awareness to brain injuries in sports. Some speakers have spoken about the benefits of mindfulness activities like yoga, meditation, and knitting on brain health.

Knitting beginners create a unique phenomenon: they form new neural pathways within their brains while creating woolen neurons in their hands. It’s a fact that learning a new skill can improve brain health.

Individual neurons are displayed as a network at the end of every knit-in. Hazelhurst Regional Gallery’s first major exhibition during National Science Week featured a giant walk-in brain sculpture created from over 1600 knitted brain cells, crocheted brain cells, and woven brain cell donations from crafters across Australia.

When did the project begin?

Pat Pillai founded Neural Knitworks with Rita Pearce. They developed their idea into an initiative for National Science Week, which Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre, Inspiring Australia, and Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre supported.

The pair created patterns based on scientific research with the help of Heather Main and Sarah McKay, as well as science communicator Jenny Whiting.

These patterns are what a real neuron would look like under a microscopical microscope, complete with axons, dendrites, nuclei, and synapses. The makers of these want objects to learn about the complexity of the nervous system as they create them.

According to some estimates, the human brain contains 80 billion neurons. Learning begins with the building blocks of the brain.

Neural Knitworks can extend the reach of scientific information by providing participants with hands-on educational experiences. Participants are able to connect with experts while improving their brain and mind health.

Yarn crafts, with their mental challenges and social connections, help keep the brain fit. They solve creative and mental problems, develop eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills, and increase attention span.

Over three weeks, thousands of people visited the first Neural Knitworks exhibit at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre. Brain surgeon Dr. Charlie Teo held a knit-in at Canberra Hospital, while Todd Sampson, Dr. Karl, and others tweeted pictures of themselves having colorful fabric neurons.

Neural Knitworks also participated in National Science Week in Albury and Sydney. The National Museum of Australia held knit-ins last month to mark Dementia Awareness Month, and the Caringbah Lions Club Nifty Knitters hosted a knitted challenge.

Knit-ins cover a wide range of mental health topics, including addiction, dementia, brain injuries, depression, and aging. Neuron crafters don’t need to be experts. They can enjoy a podcast on mind health while they work or relax and enjoy the mindfulness of yarn crafting.

Neural Knitworks offers a wonderful opportunity for people of any age to learn more about the billions and billions of neuronal cells in our body that store memories, transmit electrical signals to each muscle, and receive calls through every sense.

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