Have you tried weaving for mental health?

My name is Desert-Rain Magpie, welcome to my blog space. I’m a mom, Indigenous educator, art teacher, small biz owner and overall busy juggling many things… can you relate?

If you are anything like me, then you are probably trying desperately to juggle various roles in your life, feeling like you are inadequate at most of them, and hoping that you are doing enough to appear somewhat competent to outsiders. If this is you then this post is definitely for you, to tell you that despite being your own harshest critic, you are doing an absolutely amazing job.  What I have learned recently is that if you change the focus of your energy, your perspective will do a complete 360 too!

Why I choose weaving as a mental wellness tool?

Weaving has been a constant in my life for more than 10 years because it brings me back to a space of stillness where I can allow my sub-conscious to bring forth solutions and creativity that are otherwise stifled by my monkey mind, self-deprecating ego and seemingly endless ‘to-do’ lists.  Even if it means that dinner is going to be half an hour late, or the house doesn’t get vacuumed today, I have discovered that on my worst days, taking an hour or two to sit and weave will actually help me to be more effective at getting things done and prioritising what can wait for another day. It seems counter-intuitive, but taking time away from being busy to do something that nurtures your soul can actually be the most valuable tool to getting through your day in one piece.

Weaving has been a constant in my life for more than 10 years because it brings me back to a space of stillness where I can allow my sub-conscious to bring forth solutions and creativity that are otherwise stifled by my monkey mind, self-deprecating ego and seemingly endless ‘to-do’ lists.  Even if it means that dinner is going to be half an hour late, or the house doesn’t get vacuumed today, I have discovered that on my worst days, taking an hour or two to sit and weave will actually help me to be more effective at getting things done and prioritising what can wait for another day. It seems counter-intuitive, but taking time away from being busy to do something that nurtures your soul can actually be the most valuable tool to getting through your day in one piece.

​My PTSD and journey with weaving

If you have joined me in one of my workshops then you will know the story, but if you are new here, then you probably don’t know this about me, but I served 10 years in the military during which time I saw active duty.  It is twelve years since I discharged, but I still have to deal every day with the legacy of that service, which the medical profession have chosen to label as Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) and an anxiety disorder.  Despite several attempts over the years to engage with so called mental health experts, my experience thus far has been that each time I participate in these types of sessions my trauma is only exacerbated, so a couple of years ago I decided to disengage from their ‘help’ completely and focus on what works for me.  Enter weaving!

The benefits of weaving for someone with PTSD

Weaving works on the same systems in your body that are heightened by trauma responses.  In fact many of my weaving students perform high stress jobs such as paramedics, police, hospital staff and community service workers.  All of them report similar stories to me, that weaving for an hour or so in the evenings after a particularly tough shift is exactly the medicine they need to stop reliving the traumatic events and begin to wind down ready for bed.  Some of the reported benefits include:

  • Breathing begins to slow down, become deeper and more rhythmic
  • Shoulders begin to drop, posture relaxes and eye gaze softens
  • This slower and deeper breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, the system in your body that controls bodily functions, digestion and metabolism
  • Once the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your body is more efficient at breaking down the stress hormones that may have been released whilst experiencing or thinking about the traumatic situation

The ancient tradition of weaving

When our Grannies taught us weaving, it was always about so much more than weaving a useful vessel.  It was about getting things off our chest instead of bottling them up and it was about tapping into the collective wisdom of the group to benefit from the years of lived experiences and problem solving our Elders and communities hold.

If you are lucky enough to weave with others you will already know that you can’t help but begin to yarn with each other, and before you know it your problems will be spilling off the tip of your tongue and you will be relating to each other’s perceptions and offerings.

Spiral weaving for a clear mind is a tool for focus

When weaving the spiral design featured in coiled styles you can see clearly in your stitches when your mind has been in chaos (your stitches are uneven, too tight or you have made mistakes) and when it has dropped into relaxed stillness (your tension is even, your stitching methodical and your hand movements are confident).  This spiral shape has been embraced by First Nations Peoples throughout the world in weaving, tapestries, labrynths and art works as a tool to focus energy and intention.  So back to the original statement – How do I juggle all the things I need to be and stay sane?  The answer, of course is I weave.  If I am too busy or too stressed to weave then the answer is to weave…for longer!

A snapshot of my typical day…

My kids are going cray cray demanding food, drinks, that I watch this cool thing on Minecraft and that I sign this permission slip for a school excursion tomorrow that is going to cost $20, I have no cash on me and I haven’t taken anything out to defrost for dinner.  I am super angry that my housemate hasn’t taken out the rubbish even though I have asked him 4 times already today and I just realised that I haven’t finished marking the assignments I need to return to my students tomorrow morning.  I also haven’t posted on my business pages on Facebook or Instagram in a week and my business manager wants me to write some content for my website. Does any of this sound familiar?

Weaving as the ultimate productivity tool

Give the kids their devices for an hour, get out your weaving and set a timer, even if it is only for 30 minutes.  Sure, you will probably have to undo everything you stitch for the first 5 minutes, because as you grit your teeth and angrily force the needle through the fibres your stitches are going to be too tight, you are going to stab your thumb twenty three times and then you will realise that you picked your weaving up upside down and have been weaving in the wrong direction (hopefully it won’t be quite this dramatic)! But after about 12 minutes you will be able to let it go that the rubbish hasn’t been emptied, by 15 minutes in you will have remembered that curry you have buried in the freezer that you can just quickly heat up and serve with rice and by 25 minutes you will be nicely relaxed and can think clearly for the first time today.

desert-rain magpie teaching weaving

What happens after 30mins of weaving…

By the time your 30 minutes is up you will be able to calmly put your weaving aside and go make yourself a cuppa (or a glass of wine) which you can sip as you get dinner started.  You can do your marking, throw together a social media post and send your business manager an email whilst it is cooking.  Because you are calmer the kids are being more co-operative and you are looking forward to finishing those rows on your weaving once they are tucked away in bed.

Whilst this might sound idealistic to you, this is how effective weaving is for me in my life.  In recent years I have taken that self-care a level further, when I begin weaving I am thinking about all the things I am not doing well so I make a conscious decision to get those thoughts out of my head and then I choose to consider the things that I have done really great today or the things I am proud of.  By the time I have finished my weaving therapy session, I am focused on the positive things, which means I am more likely to continue to achieve positive outcomes, as they say where attention goes, energy flows so I invite you to try it for yourself and let me know how you go!