Definition - What does Mala mean?

Mala is a Sanskrit word meaning "garland" or "impurity." It is a string of beads that has been used by sages and those with spiritual aspirations for thousands of years. Yogis and Buddhists were the first to use mala to enhance their spiritual practices. Also called yoga beads, mala is used to keep count of mantra repetitions, or japa, during meditation.

Yogapedia explains Mala

Mala is usually made of 108 beads and a guru bead. This enhances the practice of japa meditation (also called mantra meditation) by keeping count of the number of times a mantra is chanted. Malas can be made with fewer beads, such as 18, 27 and 54. It is believed that some holy texts say a mala should consist of only nine beads. Hence, a mantra chanting of 108 times would require you to complete 12 turns of the nine-bead mala.

The number of beads in a mala is associated with the aim of japa. A mala with 27 beads is used for attaining spiritual progress, while a mala with 108 beads is used to achieve fulfillment. The number, 108, has spiritual significance as it is believed that 108 energy lines converge to form anahata, the heart chakra.

One may perform japa with mala as follows:

  • Sit straight, keeping the spine erect.
  • Keep the eyes closed.
  • Hold the mala in the right hand. Let it rest on the second and third fingers.
  • Use the thumb to bring down each bead while chanting the chosen mantra.

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