To Celebrate Endings and Beginnings, Do a Yoga Mala
From the yoga studio to a night on the town, people are donning mala bead necklaces around the globe. However, this trend is steeped in meaningful tradition and symbolism. Each mala necklace has 108 beads, and each bead evokes an energetic frequency based on its material, whether stone or seed.
How to Practice a Yoga Mala
A yoga mala is the ultimate moving meditation. It has a repetitive, steady rhythm that helps transcend the purely physical form and move us closer to the unified Self. One body, one mind, one breath. Each forward bend serves as a pranam or devoted prayer to the source. Each vibrant backbend is an emergence of radiant light. The body is the mala, the breath is the mantra.
What is a Mala?
A mala, meaning garland in Sanskrit, evokes a circular, continuous form. In practice, a mala is the devoted offering of repeated cycles (typically in divisors of 108) of mantra or asana. Within a mala, there is always a sense of beginning, continuing and completion. Both inside each individual cycle and in the practice as a whole.
What is the Significance of 108?
The number 108 is seen as significant across a range of cultures and disciplines. It informs the architecture of sacred texts that are central to yoga and eastern philosophy: there are 108 chapters of the Rig Veda, 108 Upanishads and 108 primary Tantras. In in the field of Ayurveda, there are 108 sacred places in the body, identifying intersections of matter and consciousness. Through the lens of astronomy, the diameter of the sun is approximately 108 times that of earth and the distance from our planet to its solar star is, on average, 108 times the diameter of the sun.
When to Use a Yoga Mala?
Use a yoga mala to mark an end, celebrate a beginning, or as the basis of a devotional prayer. Here are some moments that may call for a yoga mala:
- A birth in the family
- Spring Equinox
- Your Birthday
- When a friend or family member is ill
- For Mother Earth
- The end of a relationship
How to Keep Count
With the traditional sequences in the infographic below, you will simply need three different styles of counters and four small containers or piles. Try three differently colored beads (7 of one color, 2 of a second color, and 12 of a third color) and four small cups. The seven beads represent the surya namaskar As and two beads represent the surya namaskar Bs, all in one cup. Another cup has the 12 remaining beads, representing a complete round. Transfer the 9 beads into the third cup as you go, and once complete, move one of the 12 beads into the fourth cup. Then repeat the process until all 12 beads are in one cup, signifying 108 namaskars.
Stop When Your Heart Feels Complete
If you lose count or the bead system is too complicated, don’t worry. The completed number of asanas is not what matters most. You may choose to let go of the numbers all together and simply practice until your heart feels complete.
Go Softly: The Benefits of Gentle Yoga
Gentle yoga, I think, is the true yoga. We jumped, we did a million planks and down dogs, and we stayed in a pose for five minutes. Now we have arrived at a place where we are learning to be gentle with our body.
In my early teaching days, most people who came to gentle yoga were pregnant women and seniors with injuries. Nowadays I see more and more young people stepping in, wanting to be gentle with their body.
Our body is a living vehicle that we have abused and misused, and it shows wear and tear and all the experiences we have gone through. Gentle yoga helps you realize that you should not take your body for granted. It’s a gift, a costume that allows us to express ourselves and experience this world. It’s the main character in your life’s movie, creating a connection with the stories that make you YOU!
We all know of yoga’s numerous benefits. In gentle yoga, you take time to feel your body move. Breath and movement are pathways to keep the organs healthy and joints lubricated. Mostly, gentle yoga helps you have a sound mind to dictate and nurture the cells in the body. We are made of energy, and gentle yoga makes you listen to your own words and slow your pace a little. What thoughts do you tell your body?
Here’s a sample of a gentle hatha yoga practice.
Gentle yoga is a bridge between moving in flow and staying stationary. It is a midway, where there is equilibrium and bliss in every pose.
You stay in a pose long enough to enjoy that you are not pushing yourself. The body gets rid of toxins naturally. You sweat in a few poses and not at all in others, but the feeling of bliss is constant. Gentle yoga equally strengthens and stretches, increasing flexibility and repairing muscles that are in need of love. There is no hurry to finish a sequence. It’s all about relaxing and allowing yourself and your body to have as much relaxation as you want.
Gentle yoga keeps the atmosphere free of competition and comparison. There is no frustration of not doing a pose, no agitation of holding a pose. We all work within that unity to strengthen groups of muscles together. So the energy of the class is generally happy and calm.
I am very happy to see people take their time during the savasana. Everyone has to return to their own stories sooner or later, but surrendering to the body and waiting for the body to prepare to move is what gentle yoga helps with.
Most importantly, people are becoming aware of their body and how it works individually. And seeing them return for more every week is rewarding.