The Big Idea
6 years ago Jen was taking her kids to London and had an accident on a London escalator. Her 40th birthday plans went out of the window as a result of the surgery. Facing a radical change of plan and a serious bit of extremely frustrating down-time, she decided to go for broke… she decided to learn to crochet before her 40th birthday instead! Now we have seen Olympic Gold medal diver Tom Daley also using crochet in between completing as a way of keeping focus and calming his nerves. Louise Sugden who is going to Tokyo as a Paralympian Power Lifter is also a big knitter. So what’s in this?
If you watch us back at The52Project you will see why whilst we were sad to hear Jen’s story, we were immediately drawn to the tip. Quite simply Jen thinks that learning crochet saved her brain. Jen believes that learning this gentle, repetitive skill got her through one of the toughest challenges she has ever experienced – so we wanted to find out more about why something so simple, could be an absolute life-saver.
Learning a new skill and repeating the skill to relax. It seems to put us in a state of calm alertness and presence, a mediative state, where part of your head takes over and the rest of you gets a chance to recover and think more broadly. This can be incredibly useful for people who feel burned out, or in danger of burning out – those overwhelmed with lots of ‘front of head’ pressured cognitive or emotional tasks each day. It seems that making something in a more automated way (and relatively simple way when mastered) gives us pleasure and sense of fulfilment. We are also reminded here of the brain chemical boosts of dopamine and serotonin that we get from say random acts of kindness that we spoke about in #Tip26 ‘Ripple Effect’.
Got it…What’s the Science
The brain is bioelectric. This means we can measure fields of combined neuronal firing using equipment that is a bit like an ECG (electrocardiogram) but for all over the head. This is called an electroencephalogram (EEG). This technique has been used since the 1970s to measure brain states (global patterns of neuronal activity) and relate them to how the brain functions. A busy active mind tends to show a pattern referred to as beta rhythm with clear cycles of activity running at between 12 and 30 Hz. As we feel sleepier or reflective this pattern slows to an ‘alpha’ wave pattern cycling at about 7.5 to 12Hz. As we enter meditative like state we enter an even slower ‘theta’ pattern at 4 to 7.5Hz. Theta is typically related to when we do well practiced activities like driving for a while or even washing in a shower. In theta people tend to report being able to be more reflective, with thoughts bubbling in the mind but with less (or no) judgement, even a sense of mild euphoria and detachment. It can lead to the brain making looser and more creative connection and leaps. Have you ever had a great idea when you are in the shower or driving down the motorway? Theta is also a calm ‘flow state’ that many athletes and extreme sports people aim at getting to – as well as practiced meditators. So doing crochet can make you like a zen master meditator.
And this is not all. We have our old friends serotonin and dopamine associated with looking forward to and achieving pleasurable outcomes whilst doing an involved activity that absorbs us. This is before we consider the benefits that activities and interests like crochet or knitting bring to meeting likeminded people virtually if not physically. This social interaction and sense of belonging to a group of course also have many protective and healthy benefits for our mental wellbeing and general health – reducing stress (cortisol) and social isolation.
Of course you don’t have to do crochet or knitting. Similar effects should come from any practical activity that are both repetitive and absorbing such as drawing, painting, pottery, bread making, icing cakes, sanding furniture, flower arranging, weaving etc. Any activity that requires or involves large parts of the brain repetitively co-ordinating with each other.
The key here seems to kind of ‘surf’ this state and avoid entering either ‘delta’ at 0.1 to 4 Hz (sleep), back into alpha or beta or even into the much heightened ‘gamma’ at 30 to 100 Hz that is linked to intensive concentration and problem solving. So doing crochet actually means we kind of ‘mind surf’ a mediative state where the activity (crochet) is our surfboard that keeps us more in theta.
Tom Daley says that he is a natural figgeter especially when he is waiting for his event. It seems that crocheting for him not only gives his hands and brain something to do but actually helps calm his mind in readiness for the high performance when he most needs it. We believe that this could be more widely used by those with ADH (attention deficit and hyperactivity) – so you never know you might be seeing your boss crocheting in the weekly meeting before you know it!
Watch our #Tip30 on the Instagram Live Recording….
This is one of those #Tips that is rich for both experimenting and habit stacking with. Jen has now also branched out to doing Christmas wreaths this year! How about combing this say #Tip12 ‘Playlist for Life’ and / or #Tip13 ‘Treat Yourself’?
What activities could you do to mind surf your brain waves?
As ever, we’d love to hear about your experiences here. You can fill in our feedback form or DM us.
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