Mala, Sanskrit for garland, is more than cute jewelry, it’s a tool for meditation. In this video, I share with you what mala beads are and how to use them.
If you’d like to learn more about meditation and meditation tools, you can check out my previous articles:
Prefer videos? Watch What are Mala Beads and How to Use Them:
what are mala beads
If you’ve been practicing for any length of time, you may have seen other individuals wearing beads around their wrists or beads around their necks, and wondered if they have any significance.
Well, they do.
Mala bracelets and mala necklaces are tools traditionally used for meditation.
So what are malas? Malas are strands or necklaces of beads strung together. If you’re looking at a necklace, it’s going to be made up of 108 beads. My favorite is the half mala which is made up 54 beads.
other parts of a mala
Besides the 108 beads, if you had a necklace you’d have at the end, or in the middle, you would have what’s called a guru bead. The guru bead acts as a stop and start place. Sometimes in place of a guru, you might have a tassel, or a combination.
In the example, this is a simple knot with two charms hanging off of it. Since malas tend to be personal you could have whatever you wanted. You could have a guru bead, just a tassel, a simple knot, or some combination of it.
The beads on the mala are typically made out of a light wood like sandalwood, but more modern takes on the mala are starting to include gem stones, or precious gems as part of the mala too.
The simple one I showed you with the knot is just the 108 beads strung around it only.
This version has spacers or counter beads. That’s a bead placed after 27 to act as a pause point, a place to spend a moment or two reflecting, or repeating a mantra before moving on to the next section of 27 beads.
significance of 108
Why a 108 beads on a mala if you’re using a necklace? Well, a 108 is a significant, and many times sacred, number across religions, across spiritual practices, across things like numerology and math.
So it has a really significant number in the universe as a whole. For example,
- We have 108 Upanishads.
- We have 108 marma points, or sacred points on the body.
- There is a mathematical equation between the sun, the moon, and the earth, and its diameter comes out to be 108 times greater.
- It’s also said we have 108 stages in the human soul journey.
- You also will see 108 on Buddhist prayer beads.
- And 108 beads on a Catholic rosary.
how to use mala beads
So how do you use the mala as a meditation tool? What I’m going to do is I’m going to use it to keep track, so my mind doesn’t have to.
As I mentioned your mala has a start and stop point. On my 54, or half mala, I’ve got this small tassel and this is considered the middle or the guru bead.
👉 And the etiquette is we don’t want to cross over that guru bead.
So I’m going to either start on one side or the other, and I’m going to go all the way around until I get back to that tassel. The tassel lets me know where I’ve started and where I need to end.
Now what you can do with the mala, what you can count, you could create a mantra or an affirmation. Something like “I am enough” or “I am strong.” As you go through, you repeat “I am enough,” and you’d move along one of the beads.
WAYS TO USE YOUR MALA BEADS
For me, I hold it on the middle finger and use my thumb to move myself a long as I make that chant, “I am enough, I am enough, I am enough, I am enough.” (But I take my time.)
After 27 that would bring me to the spacer or the counter bead. That’s the place I can pause and maybe bring in a different affirmation, take a moment for reflection, or even have a small prayer I could use there. When that’s done I start again going through the next 27 beads.
Another option, and the one I use the mala for, I use it to count my breaths. Same idea. I’m going to inhale and exhale, then I’m going to move a bead. Inhale and exhale, I’m going to move a bead.
Each time I complete a full inhale and exhale cycle, I’ve moved through another bead. When I get to the spacer or counter bead, I pause and put in my affirmation, whatever I’ve chosen for the day or week. Then I finish my meditation with another 27 inhalations and exhalations.
FINAL TIPS ON MALA BEADS
Like any practice in yoga, meditation, meditation tools, asana classes, you need to find what works for you.
I offered a couple of options for using your mala and maybe they’ll work and maybe they won’t. If they don’t, no worries, just keep experimenting until you find the right tool and the right style of meditation for you.
If you want to make sure you’re appreciating, and not appropriating mala culture, check out this mala article by Susanna Barataki.
These are three of my favorite local north Texas artists creating mala necklaces and bracelets: