How do I use mala beads?

Q:

How do I use mala beads?

A:

Most meditation practitioners use objects of concentration to help focus the mind on the present moment; whether breath, drishti or mantrachanting, stilling the mind is a little less daunting with something to centre the attention on. Mantra chanting is particularly effective for meditation as it occupies the language mind, leaving less room for your to-do lists and worries to surface. Since mantras are commonly recited over and over, it can help to count each repetition on a garland of beads. Known as mala in Sanskrit, these prayer beads are used throughout religious and spiritual practices to mark the repetition of devoted recitations.

Mala beads are believed to protect and guide us, serving as a reminder of the interconnected nature of the universe and the divinity within us all. As such, they are considered sacred and should be treated with respect. It’s important not to leave them lying around and to keep them safely stored when not in use. Mala are commonly “activated” with a prayer or blessing, connecting the beads with your positive energy and intention. These beads are known to absorb energy – not just your own, but potentially that of the people, places and situations around you. If you feel that your mala need cleansing, simply bathe them in warm water, sunlight or the vibrations of a singing bowl. For best results, try all three!

Mantras allow us to manifest and harness the power of our intentions and energy, reminding us that the positive affirmations we tell ourselves can become a reality. The first step in using mala beads is to select a mantra. Whether it’s sacred Sanskrit, an inspirational quote or the wise words of a grandparent; if it grounds and uplifts you, you can consider it a mantra. Held in the right hand, mala should be draped over the middle finger and handled using only the thumb. It is not recommended to use the index figure with mala as it is a symbol of ego and may create an obstacle to self-realization. As you recite each repetition of a mantra, use the thumb to gently circle a bead and pull it toward you.

Typically, mala are made up of 109 beads; 108 on the main garland with the 109th jutting out from the rest. This head bead is known as the sumeru, bindu, stupa, or guru bead, signalling the practitioner to turn the mala around and circle back in the opposite direction. Not only is 108 a cross-culturally auspicious number, but the term guru means guidance from darkness to light. Reciting 108 mantras and pausing at the guru bead serves as a reminder of the power of this ancient practice. By using mala beads, it becomes possible to focus on the meaning and vibration of a mantra rather than getting tangled in the number of recitations, allowing you to focus on your meditation and connection with the divine.


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Written by Rachel Bilski
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Rachel Bilski is the co-founder of Shanti Niwas, a yoga collaborative currently holding yoga retreats and classes in Portugal and Vietnam. You can follow her musings on yoga, travel and life on the Shanti Niwas blog.

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