The relaxation response is a powerful one, able to alter our body chemistry and structure. It can enhance our ability to cope with stress, illness, financial woes, jerks in traffic.. ahem. Any of that. I've done some guided imagery, yoga, meditations over the years, but none of those things stuck with me as a daily practice. It wasn't until I started running that I really learned what kind of meditation works for me. It involves repetitive motion.
I think, or calmly don't think, when I am in focus and moving. Sometimes it feels like FLOW, like a musician playing their instrument, like a child being rocked to sleep, like a great song with a rhythm that thumps with your heartbeat. And everything else is gone, just the quiet footfalls or needle clicks to focus on. And then the counting.
I started counting footfalls when I focused on cadence with my running: how many times did my left foot hit the ground in 30 seconds? and can I increase that number to shorten my stride length? It reminds me of counting to 10 when you are upset; counting alone is calming, but counting and moving gives a real boost to the relaxation response.
In knitting, there's not always a lot of counting, but sometimes there is: 1 knit, 2 knit, 1 purl, 2 purl, and slip. Just like watching the kids' dance class! (Well, I don't thing they try to slip.) But over and over, the meditation is deep, with focus on each stitch and the dance of the loops, around and around.
And what is that relaxation response? It's the opposite of the fight or flight response. Think of a big adreneline rush: heart rate jumps, muscles clench, palms sweat. And in your body, hormones are released, the immune response is suppressed, the ability to digest is inhibited. Oh, you've seen those stupid "stress = a big belly" commercials, ugh. But, yeah.
The relaxation response is when your heart rate slows, your muscles become less tense, your hands are warmer. And people who are able to achieve this relaxation response regularly seem to have less inflammation in their bodies, and stronger immune systems. This journal article is an interesting summary, if you are interested in more.
So knit, dance, run, breathe, for your health and for fun, and to make good things.