During a particularly gloomy period of my life, my mother--a long-time devotee to the fiber arts--handed me a crochet hook, a darning needle, and a ball of yarn. “Here,” she said, “it will help you, I promise.” She had weaved, knitted, sewed, and stitched her way through the most difficult moments of her life.
My mother isn’t the only weaver to sing the praises of this creative practice--how it has uplifted her, and improved her sense of wellbeing. Other weavers describe how effectively the rhythmic and repetitive nature of the practice soothes their noisy minds. And scientific research has begun to explore the emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits of participating in the fiber arts. Recent studies have revealed the healing powers of the fiber arts--healing powers which many ancient cultures have long understood. In fact, a recent study found that regular knitters and weavers feel significantly happier and relaxed after knitting and weaving. Maybe it doesn’t come as a surprise to those of us who weave, knit, or crochet, but why is it that this is the case? Why do these practices offer us such catharsis?
Weaving engages the body as much as it does the mind. It offers us a simultaneous mental and physical challenge--one that is not insurmountable. The repetitive movements and gestures allow us to sink into a meditative state. Spiritual leaders and monks have even turned to weaving in order to improve their connection to higher powers, and their ability to meditate. So it should come as no surprise that weaving is one of the perfect activities to allow us to access a “flow state”.
The flow state is not a new phenomenon; it is deeply rooted in a number of ancient cultures and spiritualities. Japanese Zen Buddhism, for example, considers Ikebana to be a spiritual practice capable of activating a flow state. In Hinduism, Raja Yoga is a primary way to trigger a blissful flow state. And Islam acknowledges the importance of flow and advocates achieving this state through fasting and prayer. Similarly, backstrap weaving has age-old roots is, in many ways, sacred to the Maya.
But in order for a flow state to be achieved, certain parameters must be met. The task cannot be too easy; if it is, our brains quickly tire of the activity, become restless, and seek out distractions. Yet if the task is too difficult, our brains become discouraged and incapable of entering the much desired flow state. The best activities to activate a flow state will generally unite a physically demanding task with a mentally demanding task. Weaving--which is as physical as it is mental--is a perfect way to achieve a flow state.
Yet I believe that the cathartic abilities of weaving are the result of more than its ability to achieve a flow state. Backstrap weaving is an ancient and primordial creative practice. It is spiritually connected to the Maya goddess Ix chel. Women who weave are tethered to a long lineage of foremothers, those who came before them and contributed to this profoundly feminine creative tradition. It is the reassurance that our hard work--the colorful fruits of our labor--will manifest in abundant beauty.