I recently had the opportunity to chat with Sharyn of Homespun Dreams about how she uses craft as therapy. She lives with both anxiety and chronic pain. She enjoys crochet, knitting, sewing, tatting, and other crafts, sometimes mixing them together in one project. She also happens to have a nursing degree so she understands the benefits of crafting from both a personal and professional perspective. It was through her that I learned about the idea of crafting as cross-body therapy.
What is Cross-Body Therapy?
Cross-body therapy is therapeutic exercises that involves both hands of the body working together to complete a task. Also called “crossing the midline,” cross-body therapy stimulates both the body and the mind.
Children go through stages of learning how to cross the midline and use both sides of the body. This is an important part of brain development. That’s why knitting and crochet can be helpful developmental tools in elementary school.
However, children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from cross-body therapy. Adult brains can change thanks to engaging in exercises that cross the midline.
How Does Cross-Body Therapy Help the Brain?
The more habitually we do things, the more likely it is that our brains will get stuck in certain patterns. Poor neural plasticity can lead to or exacerbate a number of mental health problems. People struggling with depression and anxiety can benefit from creating new neural pathways in the brain.
Cross-body therapy is one way of building those new pathways. It stimulates neural plasticity. It helps the brain to grow in new ways. Generally speaking, your left brain controls the right side of your body and vice versa. When you cross the midline, both sides of your brain are actively engaged in the task.
This can also be beneficial for people who are recovering from strokes or otherwise need to regrow their brain strength. Put briefly, you can use a focused task with cross-body features to shake up the brain and give it renewed powers. This is helpful for coping with both physical and mental health issues.
How Cross-Body Therapy Helps in the Moment
Cross-body therapy including crafting may offer long-term brain healing. However, it’s also important to realize that it helps immediately, too. After all, most people are seeking symptom relief before going on to resolve long term issues.
Sharyn writes in one of her own blog posts, “If the brain is concentrating on doing a cross body task then it has less opportunity or capacity to concentrate on other things like problems or pain.” In other words, you can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms by focusing on the craft at hand. A cross-body task requires more focus than a task that utilizes only one side of the brain.
How Does Crafting Provide Cross-Body Therapy?
I spoke with Sharyn specifically about knitting and crochet as tools for cross-body therapy. She shared that in crochet,
“You work with both of your hands in front of you. They work together, with one hand managing the tension and the other directly working the actual stitch, to complete the task. This is cross-body therapy.”
Knitting also uses both hands, albeit differently than crochet. Both tasks can help rebuild brain plasticity as a result. They can also improve motor skills post-stroke.