More About Malas
Mala - Sanskrit for "garland".
Mala Beads - Prayer beads used for mantra and prayer practice, similar to the concept of a rosary in the Catholic faith.
Malas traditionally have 27 beads (quarter mala), 54 beads (half mala) or 108 beads (full mala) used for meditation or intention setting.
Japa - Sanskrit for “repetition”.
Japa Practice - The meditative practice of reciting mantras or affirmations, often with the use of mala beads.
The History of Mala Beads
Malas are one of the latest fashion trends to hit the yoga space, but their origin and history goes back to the birthplace of yoga. The history of prayer beads is vast and it's believed to have originated in India over 5,000 years ago.
As time went on, many other religions started using prayer beads within their religious practices and mala prayer beads became common in China, Korea, Tibet, and Japan.
Eventually, prayer beads extended into Europe during the Middle Ages in the form of Catholic rosaries.
The Purpose of Mala Beads
Traditionally, mala beads would be used for the reciting of prayers for a specific intention, the names of a deity, or a mantra given to you by a teacher or guru.
They are used for all kinds of purposes, mostly revolving around intention setting.
Mala beads serve as a tactile reminder to focus during meditation and chanting.
Today many people use them in prayer and meditation because it helps to calm the “monkey mind”.
While some people can easily sit down and quiet the mind to focus for meditation, many others can’t.
Having the beads to keep the mind and hands busy can help with keeping focus.
Mala necklaces can be as spiritual as you want - or not spiritual at all.
Many people who don't have a meditation or prayer practice also appreciate a mala as an awesome piece of jewelry. They’re chic, trendy, and powerful.
Whether you use it to count your mantras while meditating, or just enjoy the energy of the gemstones, it's a beautiful way to raise your vibration and create positive change in your life.
The Meaning Behind Mala Beads
A full mala is made up of 108 individual beads, which are used to keep count while chanting or repeating a mantra while meditating.
The number 108 has spiritual significance and is considered sacred.
Number 1 stands for God, the universe, or your own highest truth.
Number 0 stands for emptiness and humility in your spiritual practice.
Number 8 stands for infinity and timelessness.
It is said that our bodies contain 108 major physical and subtle energy channels that reach the heart chakra. By chanting or listening to a mantra 108 times, the energy from the mantra permeates the physical, emotional, and energy body.
The Guru BeadThe 109th bead is called the guru bead.
This is the center bead which can vary greatly from mala to mala and tradition to tradition.
Some use a specific style of bead with a tassel hanging off it. In other configurations of beads the guru bead may be a specific type of gemstone which would signify the intention and purpose of the mala beads.
The guru bead is a very important bead since it represents either your own guru or teacher, your deity, or your Higher Self (all depending on your tradition and views) along with your intention.
A mala is traditionally finished with a tassel.
Tassels are a big jewelry fashion trend, but the mala tassel has both a functional purpose as well as a spiritual significance.
The function of the tassel is to anchor the mala’s stringing cord at the end of the guru bead.
A pre-made tassel added on after construction does not have the same function or hold the same symbology as a tassel that is made as an integral part of the mala.
There’s also a deep spiritual meaning to the mala tassel.
Throughout history, the tassel has served as a talisman and symbol of power, protection, prestige and spiritual connection. In Buddhism, the tassel threads represent the roots of the lotus plant to remind the wearer of the analogy “no mud, no lotus.”
Choosing Your Mala Beads
The materials that make up a set of mala beads help to set the intention of what the beads will be used for.
It’s not uncommon for avid japa mala practitioners to have different sets of mala beads for different intentions.
Each set will carry it's own energy and intention.
Choose something that resonates with the purpose of your work, and the energy and intention that you wish to draw into your life.
Just like malas mean more than they appear, the individual stones themselves each have different energy.
Meditating with Your Mala Beads
When you meditate with your mala beads, you will repeat your mantra once for each bead on your necklace. Essentially your mantra is a condensed version of your intention.
Mala beads are perfect for times when you want to harness the healing power of the stones and really focus on a particular intention.
Traditionally, the beads are held in the right hand, and worked through the thumb and the middle finger.
The index finger is extended and never touches the mala beads. The index finger is related to the ego, something which ideally is kept out of prayer, meditation, and devotional work.
To move through the beads the thumb lightly pulls each bead through or over the middle finger with each prayer, affirmation, or mantra that is recited.
When praying with your mala you never cross over your guru bead.
When you start your meditation, you start at the first bead to the right of the guru bead. You then go through all the beads until you get to the last bead before your guru bead. You can stop there, hold your guru bead and say a prayer to your deity, say a prayer for your teacher, or set an intention and then stop your meditation.
In some traditions it’s common practice to do a second round to bring you back to the point where you started your meditations. If you are going to do this, you turn your mala so that the last bead is now on the right again.
Prayers, Chants, Mantras, and Affirmations to Use with Your Mala Beads
If you are working with a guru or teacher, they will give you a mantra to use in order to help empower you on your journey. Most people don’t have a guru or teacher working with them, they just know what they are looking to bring into their lives. Be open to whatever words or phrases you feel will be most beneficial for you and fitting for your chosen mala.
You might choose affirmations, like “I am wise”, “I am strong”, “I am powerful”, or traditional mantras, like "Om Mani Padme Hum". There is no hard and fast rule of what to use if you aren’t holding to a specific traditional practice or working with a teacher.
Examples of affirmations:
I Am Love
I Am Light
I Am Enough
I Am Wise
I Am Strong
I Am Powerful
I Am Connected
I Am Grounded
I Am Healed
I Am Forgiving
I Am Patient
Activating Your Mala Beads
Mala beads are fantastic tools for mantra meditation and spiritual practice. When activated, they are believed to hold great spiritual power to assist you in your meditation practice as well as your overall spiritual journey.
In activating our mala beads, we’re unlocking the energy inherent within these sacred objects. During activation, we’re making mala beads unique to our Spirits - aligning them with our own personal energies and intentions.
Activating a mala can be done in different ways depending on your preferences, your traditions, and your practices.
Typically, you’ll want to hold your beads in the right hand.
It’s believed that your right hand gives energy, while the left hand receives it.
Another way to hold the mala is to place both hands around it with the hands at your heart center in prayer position.
If there’s another way that resonates with you, then by all means do that. Trusting your higher self is part of the activation process.
You can sit cross-legged in a meditation posture, lie in savasana, or even stand during this sacred ritual.
Relax into whatever position feels right for you. You might want to light a candle and some of your favorite incense to create a sacred ambience.
Now, gently close your eyes and become rooted in the breath. Inhale and exhale deeply.
Bring into your mind’s eye a clear intention for your beads. Visualize how you’d like to see your life, and how your mala will help you create this life.
Once your mala and your intention is chosen, you decide on your prayer, mantra, or affirmation that will be used with it. Charge your mala with this specific intention by using your chosen mantra or affirmation every time you meditate with your beads. Once a set of mala beads is charged with a specific mantra, it can then be worn or carried like a talisman to radiant and attract this specific energy.
It’s a good idea to have different malas for different intentions since each set will carry its own energy.
Storing Your Mala Beads
An empowered mala is often kept in a sacred place when it’s not being used, worn, or carried.
Many people will place them around the neck of a Buddha statue or the statue of another deity that they may be working with or whom the beads are dedicated to.
You can also keep them in a special box or cloth bag and keep that on your altar or in another sacred space.
These are sacred tools, so like any other sacred item, they should be cared for with respect.
Wearing Your Mala Beads as Jewelry
Wearing malas as jewelry is one of the ways to draw on its power outside of prayer and meditation.
They serve as a constant, sacred reminder of a specific intention that you have set.
If you are using them as a sacred tool, even if they are being worn as jewelry, they should be treated like any other kind of sacred item.
People will be drawn to your beads if you wear them, because for most people, they will be beautiful and unusual.
If you don’t feel like someone else should touch your mala, politely explain this to them. This will also present the perfect opportunity to teach them about prayer necklaces, which they clearly don’t know about if they’re reaching out for a handful of your beads.
The way you should treat your mala beads ultimately comes down to your reason for using them.
Whether you’re using them for prayer and meditation, for energy healing, or as a fashion statement, mala beads are always about you - your intention - your thoughts - your desires - your purpose.
Caring for and Cleansing Your Mala Beads
Like any other tool that will be used for prayer, energy work, and sacred practice you will find over time that it needs a little refreshing and cleansing. If you are wearing your mala out and people touch it, you’ll want to cleanse it.
Using a singing bowl and letting vibration do the cleansing is the best method, especially if there are gemstones involved in the mala. This resets the stones back to their natural dominant oscillatory rate, making them as energetically pure as possible. You can use smudging or incense to cleanse them as well.
Always be mindful of how you use and wear your mala.
Prevent contact with moisture, including rain, water, sprays, chemicals, perfumes, soaps, lotions and liquid cleansers. Remove before bathing, swimming, exercising, or sleeping.
Some people like to wear their mala on their wrist while doing yoga, but depending on how rigorous your yoga routine is, you could snap the string your beads are on while doing any positions that have you flexing your wrists and putting weight on your hands.
Broken Mala Beads
Over time malas may stretch, but that is normal for anyone who likes to wear / use their mala daily as it is intended. Tassels relax and fade over time which adds to the character of your mala.
There is a belief that if your mala breaks, it means that the intention for which you needed the mala has now been achieved. That said, it can be disappointing for your beloved mala to break.
For that reason, malas that have broken due to the "karmic" cycle can be restrung.
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From my Anahata (Sanskrit: अनाहत ) heart chakra . . . to yours . . . . .