Are you a regular practitioner of yoga or meditation? Do you oftentimes get too distracted by your own thoughts? Consider then if mala beads can be the tactile guidance you need.
Mala beads, from the sanskrit “mala” meaning garland, are string of beads that are traditionally used for prayer and meditative/mantric practices in and around the Indian subcontinent.
Anthropologically speaking beads have been used for many thousands of years in various parts of the world and mala beads are special in that they have primarily been used as a spiritual tool for specific types of mental and spiritual (mantric, meditative) exercises.
Aside from the practical meditative application of mala beads, malas are also often used as decoration (meditation shrines/altars) and worn as jewelry around the wrist and neck of yogis and yoga-lovers.
The practitioners of yoga oftentimes choose and keep their own mala beads depending on their own special relationship with them. It could be the effects of stones (healing, intention etc.), or simply the colours, energy and vibration they sense radiating from the beads.
The significance of 108
Why 108, you may be wondering?
Well here’s where meaning comes in to the picture.
Not to get overly philosophical with you but, what is meaning really? Is there meaning inherent in objects, thoughts and feelings or are we as subjective beings responsible for co-creating them?
The number 108 seems to have been revered in different religions, traditions and belief systems through out history, especially in the Vedic tradition. The vedic philosophers and yogis of the ancient world believed that 108 was spiritually and existentially significant. They associated it with the totality of existence, the 108 sacred places (shakti peethas) in India and also the 108 sacred points (bindu or marma points) in the human body.
The number 108 is simply an elegant formulation and symbol for what Yogis believed and still believe to contain the whole of existence.
For some more intricate accounts of 108 is that the number 1 represents the unity of existence, 0 stands for the truth of emptiness and 8 as the infinity of the universe.
As you see, meaning is a highly subjective phenomena, that being said I still feel that one cannot disregard the possibility that these ideas may in some mysterious way hold “validity” when it comes to reality and nature itself.
Now, now… Lets leave all the philosophical speculative talk behind us and talk more about the beads themselves and actual benefits that may arise from using them.
What are the benefits?
Mala beads can enable your mind to become one-pointed, i.e. focused and direct, which as you might know is a highly valuable quality to have when involved with spirituality.
As any experienced meditator or intelligent being would tell you, our psychological monkey minds have crazy lives of their own. Most people do not consciously notice and know this, chiefly because they are so identified as that very mental process instead of the silent witness of it all.
It is precisely here where the mala beads shine, as they allow your mind to become focused by aligning your conscious attention and tactile sensations with meaningful words, sounds or breaths.
Furthermore, mala beads have often in Yogic and Buddhist practices, since the 9-10th century at least, functioned as a kind of aid that helps the seeker, monk or disciple to attain to higher truths about themselves and reality.
The benefits of using malas, as you can see, can and are quite varied, here below are some of the most interesting ones:
- Mala beads can help you become focused by taming your monkey-mind and enhancing your self-awareness.
- Can help your pranayamic practice by slowing down respiration, which in turn can lead to overall health and wellbeing.
- Can be healing depending on what material the beads are made out of and your own unique relationship with it.
- Can potentially cleanse the “108 marma points” in your body.
- Can replace negative thought patterns with positive ones through japa mantric meditation.
- Can help you stick to your sense of purpose in life by teaching you to stay disciplined, humble and adherent to practice.
What are they made of?
In today’s advanced and dynamic age malas are made out of many different material, ranging from precious gemstones, gold and silver to the more traditional (organic) ones like plant seeds, wood and animal bones.
- Rudraksha seeds
- Bodhi seeds
- Lotus seeds
- Tulsi Wood
- Crystals (Gemstones)
- Lava stones
How to Choose the Right Mala Bead
Remember that scene in Harry Potter (The Philosophers Stone) when Harry talks to that old man in the wand shop and learns the important lesson of:
“The wand chooses the wizard and it isn’t always clear why.”
If you’re open to it, finding the right mala bead can kinda be a similar experience to that.
The instant you are drawn to a certain mala bead, whether its browsing online or in an actual store, the instant you feel that click. Consider buying precisely that one and see what happens from there.
There isn’t really any right or wrong set of malas objectively, just intuit your way to what feels to be the right one.
Meditative things to ponder while browsing for a mala can be: What intentions do I have with the beads? What is it that I wish most in life? Do I wish to become spiritually clearer in my soul?
You can try answering those questions by glimpsing at the different materials being used in the creation of malas, ranging from as mentioned: organic like seeds and wood or the beads can be of inorganic material as well, such as gemstones and the like.
How to Use Mala Beads
Hopefully by now you’ll have choosen a mala bead, or perhaps the mala beads have choosen you. You’ll also by now know that mala beads can be a powerful aspect of your meditation practice, but the question still remains, how to use it?
If that is indeed your question, lets then go through two powerful ways of using these malas.
Japa Mantra Meditation
First one up is the japa mantric meditation, which is the meditative repetition of a mantra, sacred word (OM) or divine name. This practice works perfectly with malas.
Here’s how you do it:
- Make yourself comfortable by finding a serene and nice place where you can sit or lay down untroubled.
- Choose a mantra that suits and speaks to you. This could be a sacred word like OM, or simple ones like “life is love”, “I am joy” etc.
- Hold the mala bead in one hand and let it hang relaxedly.
- With your opposite hand touch the guru bead.
- As you move your fingers to the coming bead, repeat your mantra out loud, as a whisper or simply quietly in the privacy of your own mind. (Continue until you arrive to the guru bead again)
- If you desire to do another set of mantras, consider not jumping over the guru bead (interestingly enough some accounts describe it as disrespectful). Rather, turn the mala around and move in the opposite direction.
Breathing Meditation (Pranayama)
Another way you can use malas is through breathing meditation or also known as pranayama. You can improve your health and well-being through effective breathing exercises by using the beads as nods for each breath.
Here’s how you do it:
- Find a comfortable place to sit down.
- Hold the beads in one hand and let it dangle loosely and relaxedly.
- Take the guru bead with your opposite hand.
- As you move your fingers to the next bead, breathe in (through the nose) and breathe out (optional).
- Each bead gets its own inhale and exhale.
- Maintain this until you end up at the guru bead again.
Whether you wish to wear the mala beads as a meaningful reminder of your highest intention and wish in life or as an spiritual aid in your meditative practice, malas can be quite beneficial both mentally and spiritually.
Feel free to share your own experience with malas below, we would love to hear it from you guys!
Daniel Seeker is a lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized deep relaxations of the psyche when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realization. Daniel has meditated & done yogic exercises daily for more than 10 years and is studying history and philosophy at Uppsala Universitet. He is currently finishing writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist, Yogic and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.