Mala Beads 101: Meanings, Benefits and How to Use Them For Meditation
Mala beads, once used for religious practices, is now becoming popular as a fashion accessory. I see it hanging almost everywhere and worn by people from all walks of life.
Did you know that malas are not simply beautiful ornaments worn on the body, but can be a very useful tool for helping you with emotional and mental balance?
The meaning behind mala beads is deeply rooted in symbolic and spiritual practices. In this post, we share the basic 101 of mala beads so the next time you wear your mala, you’ll better understand its tradition and how to use them.
What are Malas?
Most major religions including Hinduism, Catholicism, and Buddhism have a history of using prayer beads to support their practices. Catholics use their rosary beads to pray to Mother Mary, while Hindus use the Japa mala to pray and meditate.
Malas are strands of 108 beads plus a ‘guru’ or ‘head’ bead, used traditionally for meditation. The guru bead is used as a marker for the fingers to feel for the beginning or end of the necklace during meditation or mantra chanting.
For larger malas, there may be are special or different shaped beads called the counter beads, placed after every 27th bead to make it easier to keep track of the mantra.
Malas are usually held in the palm, worn around the neck or the wrist as a reminder of your intentions. It is a wearable reflection of your personal journey and growth.
While the significance of the number 108 is still open for debate, the number has been considered sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, and yoga. If you would like a more in-depth explanation, here’s a good article to read.
Significance of Mala Beads Materials and Gemstones
Historical mala beads were made with organic materials such as wood, seeds, or animal bones. Sandalwood and Bodhi seeds are examples of traditional mala beads.
Increasingly, malas made out of precious and semi-precious gemstones are becoming more popular as these gemstones are known for their healing properties. For instance, Amethyst is prized for its effect on mental and emotional clarity, while Tiger Eye is known for grounding, strength, and protection.
How to Use Mala Beads for Mantra Meditation
A common way to use mala beads is to track a mantra meditation. During mantra meditation, you would recite repetitively a single sound eg. “ohm”, affirmations, or a traditional Sanskrit mantra.
Start your mantra meditation
- Choose a mantra: See our examples below or use your own
- Sit in a comfortable position: I usually take an easy cross-legged position on a meditation cushion or bolster
- Take a few rounds of deep breaths: Relax your mind and body before you start
Start repeating your mantra with the aid of your mala beads
- Hold the mala in your right hand and between the thumb and middle finger.
- Start at the guru bead and use your thumb to move the mala one bead at a time
- Repeat your mantra in your head each time you move a mala bead
- After 108 repetitions, you will come back to the guru bead
- Inhale deeply
- Exhale and open your eyes gently
It may sound slightly crazy to repeat something for 108 times, but imagine you are repeating a positive affirmation every day for 108 times before you start your day. What would you think will be the effect on your mindset and emotions?
Everyone is different and the mantras that speak most to us will be different. Setting intentions and praying from your heart is what truly matters.
Do comment below if any of these speak to you, or if you would like to suggest other mantras!
Positive affirmations are a great way to get into mantra meditation. The ones below are my personal favourites.
- I am strong and powerful
- I am getting better every day in every way
- I am wise
- My every desire is achievable
- I am a winner
- I am fearless
- I choose hope over fear
- I am highly favoured and greatly blessed
- I am successful
- My body is a temple, I love and respect it
Other common mantra examples include traditional Sanskrit mantras such as
- Ohm – One of the most popular forms of chanting used to open and end yoga classes. Chanting Ohm produces a deep vibration and sound through your chest and sinuses, helping to relax your mind and body
- Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu – May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute to the happiness and freedom for all.
- Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ - Shanti Mantra, a chant for peace sometimes used at the end of a yoga class.
Mala Beads for Pranayama Breathing Practice
Besides mantra meditation, mala beads can also benefit your pranayama practice. The beads can be used as cues for breathing to help you focus better during your practice.
Using mala beads for pranayama is similar to mantra meditation, as you move your fingers to the next bead, breathe in and then out.
Each round of inhale and exhale should coincide with the movement of one bead. Continue until you have completed 108 cycles of breath.
Let me know if you found this post useful or if you’ll like to know more about mala beads and healing crystals.
This post was first published at The YogaMad blog.