Mindfulness 101: Mindfulness Jars

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

I feel there is a lot of confusion about mindfulness out there, but this quote by Jon Kabat- Zinn sums it up best.  Don't think about it too much, just remember that mindfulness is more of an experience rather than a concept.  If you are willing, mindfulness doesn't have to conflict with any of your beliefs, schemas, perceptions, or opinions in any way.  Mindfulness can be a gentle addition to any and all of these and, when given a chance, is likely to enhance your life in a positive way, particularly if you or your children struggle with high stress, overwhelm, inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, physical pain, ruminating thoughts, anxiety and worry, addiction, poor motivation, and/or mood instability.

I guess what I am trying to do here is to get your 'buy in,' so to speak. 

My number one difficulty in teaching mindfulness to clients is just helping them to be open to the experience.  I find that many people fear that mindfulness is a kind of cultish ritual, or hippy religion that they are going to have to adopt by abandoning their beliefs and completely changing their outlook on the world.  I mean, I guess you could use mindfulness in this way if you wanted to, but this is certainly not my intention when teaching mindfulness to clients, nor my intention when I use mindfulness in my personal practice.

I invite you to open your mind and consider the possibility of mindfulness being a sweet and gentle tool that you can use to improve your health and wellness.  Try this on for size and see how it works for you.....

So to get started, let's use a simple metaphor and DIY craft to help you grasp the intention of mindfulness in a cerebral and visual way. 

Anyone who knows me well, know how much I love crafting, so these Mindfulness Jars are a marriage of my two favorite things, crafting and meditation!   Also, this craft is super easy to do and a great way to introduce mindfulness to your kids.  In this way you can promote wellness for the whole family!

Materials:

  • One mason jar of any size (I used the half-pint size here)
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Small figurine, something that will fit inside of the mason jar with room to spare on all sides.  I used this fun little gnome!
  • Glitter of any color
  • Tap water

Instructions:

First begin by filling your mason jar with regular tap water.  Test out how much water you will need by placing the figurine (the gnome) inside the water, as the water will rise when you do.  Make sure to leave some space in the jar because you will also add quiet a lot of glitter.

Once you have the right amount of water, you will then use your hot glue gun to glue your figurine to the underside of the mason jar lid.   Place a good amount of glue at the bottom of the figurine.  Then gently place the figurine in the center of the underside of the lid.  Hold in place until the glue has cooled.  Set aside and let dry completely.

Now you will add the glitter to your mason jar filled with water.  Pour glitter into the jar, on top of the water.  You will use quite a lot of glitter.  I used about half a bottle, until there was about an inch and a half of glitter sitting on top of the water.

Once the figurine is completely dry and cooled, you are going to place the lid onto the mason jar, as you regularly would.  Be careful no water or glitter spill out.  If so, you will need to pour some out to make room for the figurine.  Make sure the lid is securely fastened and then tip your mason jar upside down and voilà!  Mindfulness Jar complete!


Now let's pretend the mason jar is your mind and the glitter is the thousands of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that swirl around in your head all day.  When these thoughts, feelings, and emotions (glitter) start swirling around your mind (mason jar) you may feel stressed, overwhelmed, fearful, confused, depressed, agitated, distracted, or a combination of any of these things.  Also, notice that when these thoughts, feelings, and emotions (glitter) are swirling about, it is really hard to stay focus on any one thing (the gnome) as these cloud your ability to focus on what really matters, such as your work, tasks, relationships, wellbeing, etc.

When you engage in mindfulness and pay attention to what is happening in the moment, gently watching the thoughts, feelings, and emotions (glitter) swirling, noticing your breath, sitting in stillness, becoming aware of the physical sensations in your body, allowing things to unfold naturally without trying to change anything, suspending all judgment, you may begin to notice that the thoughts, feelings, and emotions (glitter) start to slowly settle until you are able to see more clearly and your mind (mason jar) becomes calm.  With a calm mind you are able to focus on what is important so that you may feel more relaxed, improve your concentration, be able to make better decisions, and feel a sense of peace or wellbeing.

 

Try it out now.  Take a minute to watch the very short video below for a brief demonstration of the basic principles of mindfulness...

Knitting as Self-Care

It wasn’t until I was in my Masters program for Clinical Psychology that I ever heard the words “self-care.”  Self-care was drilled into our teachings, due to the fact that burn-out is high in healing professions.  When I think of this, what always comes to mind is the speech given by flight attendants before takeoff,

“In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth….  If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.”

Clearly, it is imperative to help yourself before you are able to help others.

Yet, since my educational years, I hear ‘self-care’ used quite often, in many different contexts, many of which are unrelated to the psychology field or other helping professions.  This little phase seems to have caught on, and we are all, no doubt, thankful.

Self-care is so important because it keeps us fresh, clear-headed, and motivated.  It allows us time to re-charge and experience life’s pleasures.  Self-care increases productivity.  It gives us feelings of well-being.  And if you are in a healing or caring profession (this includes all the mothers out there), self-care increases empathy, compassion, and your ability to provide to others.

The best part, self-care means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What may be self-care to me, may not be self-care to you, and vice versa.  Also, there are many activities out there that could be self-care if only I had the time or interest to try them (i.e. surfing, painting, martial arts, running, _____________ fill in the blank).  Therefore, here, I want to discuss interesting forms of self-care, specifically, knitting.

Maybe knitting is already your self-care and you didn’t know it.  Maybe you knew knitting was your self-care, although it wasn’t really your intention to be such; you just like to knit!  Maybe you’ve never tried knitting before, but could dig it.  Or maybe you think knitting ‘is for girls’ or for ‘nerds’ and wouldn’t think to touch it with a 10 foot pole.

Well think again!

Knitting is for everyone!  As long as you are willing and show a little interest, knitting might just be the best thing that ever happened to you, as far as self-care is concerned.  And if you already believe this whole-heartedly, well, as they say, keep on wit’ yo’ bad self!

Here are nine reasons why knitting is therapeutic and an excellent self-care tool:

1.  Knitting increases focus and attention:

Depending on the project you set out to make, the effort required to knit something varies.  On the more difficult projects, such as socks or a sweater, you most likely will follow a pattern that requires great attention and focus.  There certainly will be counting and some math involved, multitasking on different parts of the project at the same time, fine motor skills, spatial relations, and eye-hand coordination.  Research demonstrates that these kinds of tasks, particularly motor tasks, increase cell and brain development in the areas of thinking and focused attention (Schwartz, E., Knitting and Intellectual Development, 2012).  Therefore, by knitting you may be improving your academic and vocation abilities.

2. Knitting cultivates brain laterality

Brain Laterality refers to the ability to use both hemispheres of the brain.  Although we do use both sides of the brain, many of us have one side of the brain that is more predominant than the other.  To very simply summarize this process, the left side of your brain is more rational, analytical, logical, and linear, while the right side of your brain is more social, emotional, experiential, creative, and deals with interconnection of parts to create a whole (Siegel, D., Mindsight, 2010.)  If you are one who tends to be more left brained, you may be cut off from your emotions, rigid, and resistant.  If you are one who tends to be more right brained, you may be very sensitive and have difficulty regulating emotions.  Research demonstrates that cohesion between both sides of the brain, left and right hemispheres, allows for increased feelings of well-being, as one is able to better balance various aspects of life, the logical and analytical, as well as the emotional and spiritual (Siegel, D., Mindsight, 2010.)  Specifically, knitting helps to increase brain laterality, or cohesion of both brain hemispheres, because the creative process of knitting activates the right hemisphere, while the mathematical and spatial aspects of knitting activate the left hemisphere.  Also, knitting requires the use of both hands which naturally activates both hemispheres of the brain.

3. Knitting allows for silence and stillness:

Silence is golden, and seemingly harder to find these days.  The world seems to be going faster and faster, with the internet, cell phones, social media, and all those dang apps, we hardly have any down time anymore.  Therefore, in order to slow down and make time for ourselves we must make a committed effort and serious action to rest and decompress from the day’s events.  Knitting gives you the space for this.  It is the time when you can, and probably should, turn off the computer, TV, cell phone, etc, and just be quiet and still.  Trust me.  You’ll thank me later.

4.  Knitting is a form of meditation:

In a traditional meditation practice you focus all your attention on a neutral area of the body, usually your breathe.  You notice the sensations of breathing as you sit in stillness and silence.  When a thought, sound, emotion, or some other distraction arises, you notice the distraction, let it got and then return to the sensation of breathing.  The principals are the same with knitting.  However, while knitting your focal area will be your hands and fingers.  Focus your attention on the sensations of knitting; the yarn running across finger tips, the throwing of the yarn, the movement of the needs, the clicking sound of the needles, the texture of the stitches, the weight of the yarn, etc.  When you notice a thought or another distraction, simply notice it and when it no longer holds your attention return your focus to the sensations of knitting.  In this way, you are increasing present moment awareness and not being swayed by thoughts of the past or future.  As in any meditation, present moment awareness increases mood regulation, empathy and compassion, feeling of well-being, relaxation, immunity, and resting functions of the body.

5. Knitting is calming:

Anyone who has ever knit before will tell you how relaxing it can be.  After you learn the basic skill and technique, your hands go on autopilot and you don’t even have to think about how to make each stitch.  The subsequent relaxation that this cultivates is due to “flow,” which is defined by a Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as “a few moments in time when you are so completely absorbed by an activity that nothing else seems to matter” (Wilson, J., This Is Your Brain on Knitting, 2014).  The repetitive movements of knitting induce flow by centering your attention on the task at hand.  This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, or the part of the brain responsible for rest, relaxation, and reparative functions of the body (Wilson, J., This Is Your Brain on Knitting, 2014). 

6.  Knitting induces faith:

In knitting, you create something from nothing.  It is faith that gets you through that process.  In order for it to work, you must believe that your repetitive movements and skill will build stitch upon stitch to create something new and unique.   And when I say “new,” I mean new.  Don’t be stuck in the traditional conventions of knitting, scarves, socks, sweaters.  You can literally make anything you want.  For example, Olek, a knit artist based out of Poland, has knit the Wall Street bull, full body suits, her house, and even under water, among many others!  If that doesn’t take an act of faith, I don’t know what does.

7.  Knitting increases self-esteem:

Once you are done knitting something, anything at all, a sock, a buoy, or just your first row, you will feel pride.  That is guaranteed.   Knitting is a task that when completed you feel successful.  Also, knitting is a safe way to increase self-esteem, because it is usually a very neutral task; there isn’t much riding on whether or not you are a good knitter.  Therefore, by practicing knitting you will most definitely increase feelings of confidence.

8.  Knitting tackles perfectionism

Inevitably when you knit, you will make a mistake; you might drop a stitch, create the wrong kind of stitch, forget an important aspect of the pattern, decrease or increase too few or too many, etc.   Yes, you can go back and fix it, but depending on how far down your project the problem lies, it might be quite a hassle.  Also, probably no one will notice your knitting mistakes, except for maybe you as the creator.  This is a lesson, not only in patience, but in embracing imperfection.  Fix what you can and let the rest go.

9.  Knitting teaches acceptance:

Ah, acceptance.  The hardest and most profound lesson in life.  Because you will make mistakes, because mistakes are inevitable, you will struggle with letting go and accepting things as they are.  Just remember this:  in knitting and in life, there will be difficulty.  Allow that difficulty to be what it is, rather than avoiding it, trying to change it, or get pissed off about it, just sit with it.  When you do you will find that things can naturally change and unfold into something amazing.  Use knitting as a tool to start this process.  In that way, knitting is a more tolerable metaphor that you can practice to help you with life’s more serious difficulties.

 

* This blog post was a collaboration project for AK Kerani, a company dedicated to promoting mental health and wellness through knitted fashion. Click here for the direct link for this article featured at AK Kerani.  Be apart of the movement to erase the stigma of mental health.  Comment below to get involved in mental health awareness. *