Mala beads have been used by yogis and spiritual seekers for thousands of years to help keep their minds focused during meditation. In modern yogi times mala necklaces and bracelets are increasing in popularity, they are top trend in wearable yoga, some of them combine gemstones imbued with potent energies and sacred meaning to infuse yoga practice.
What are Malas?
Malas were first created in India 3000 years ago and have roots in Hinduism, Buddhism and yoga. The term ‘mala’ is a Sanskrit word for “meditation garland.” Originally, mala beads were used for a special style of meditation called Japa, which means, “to recite.”
A mala is a string of 108 beads with one bead as the summit or head bead called a ‘sumeru.’ Malas are used as a tool to help the mind focus on meditation, or count mantras in sets of 108 repetitions.
Malas’ Traditional 108 Beads
There are many theories behind the significance of the number 108, which has long been considered a sacred number in Hinduism. It is believed that the number 1 stands for God, the universe or your own highest truth; 0 stands for emptiness and humility in spiritual practice; and 8 stands for infinity and timelessness.
Malas are often used as decorations, jewelry, or during seated meditation. You may see malas adorning the wrists, necks, and altars of meditation devotees and at the top of mats of yoga practitioners. These beautiful necklaces often hold special significance for the bearer based on where they got it, why they chose the stones, and the energy resonance they feel with the beads. Nowadays, malas are made out of a variety of materials including wood, seeds, stones, pearls, and crystals. The practitioner engages the energy of the seeds, gemstones, crystals etc with prayers, hopes, dreams.
What is the Guru Bead on the Malas?
The guru bead on a mala is the middle bead that marks the beginning and end of the mala. The guru bead is typically larger than the rest so that you are able to tell when you have reached an endpoint. This bead is known as the guru bead because it is meant to signify and remind the student of their guru and the particular mantra said during Japa mala that was given to them by their guru.
How to Use Mala Beads for Meditation
- Choose a spot and sit comfortably with your spine straight and your eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths to center and align yourself with your intention.
- If you have one, use a mantra for this practice, chanting aloud or silently.
- Hold your mala in your right hand, draped between your middle and index fingers. Starting at the guru bead, use your thumb to count each smaller bead, pulling it toward you as you recite your mantra. Do this 108 times, traveling around the mala, until you once again reach the guru bead.
- If you want to continue the meditation, instead of passing over the guru bead, simply reverse direction and begin again.
Mantras for Mala
Choosing a mantra might seem the most important decision in the world, but don’t over-think it: sit down to meditate, and let it come to you.
An easy way to start is with an affirmation-based mantra: “I am _____.” Choose a third word (love, strong, supported, etc.) for whatever you need at that moment.
Examples of Mantras:
The most famous chant in the world is the Compassionate Buddha “Om Mani Padme Hum” which translates to “Hail to the jewel in the lotus.” It is the mantra of the Buddha of Compassion, known by the Chinese as Goddess Kuan Yin. The mantra calms fears, soothes concerns and heals broken hearts.
Buddhist Money Mantra
Mantra of Ganesh
The Mantra of Ganesh is dedicated to the Hindu god of wisdom and success who destroys all obstacles. “Om Gum Ganapatayei Namah,” which translates to “I bow to the elephant-faced deity (Ganesh) who is capable of removing all obstacles. I pray for blessings and protection.” The mantra is especially beneficial when facing big challenges and when traveling. (more mantras)
How Is Mala Worn?
Malas can be worn as necklaces, and can also be looped multiple times around your wrist as a bracelet. It’s a common belief that when malas are used regularly for mantra meditation, they absorb the vibrations of the practice. So the more you meditate using a mala, the more energy it absorbs and reflects back onto you.