How to Use Mala Beads for Meditation, Prayer, and Yoga

An image of female hands holding buddhist mala rosary

If you practice yoga or meditation regularly, you may want to consider using mala beads as a meditation aid.

Mala beads are typically a string of 108 beads used to keep count during mantra meditations, also known as Japa meditation. Some malas can also have 27 beads or 21 beads for use in shorter meditations. The practice is similar to the rosary as one recites a mantra or prayer for each bead, repeating it continuously as you move on to the next beads.

Mala meditation, or Japa, is a practice shared by many eastern spiritualities, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Shintōism. Mala beads have been used particularly in Buddhism and Hinduism for centuries and the traditional Rudraksha mala traces its origin back to the 10th century.

Malas can be used during meditation, they can be made from gemstones that match the intention of your practice, and often malas are placed in shrines as a reminder of affirmations. Malas are also referred to as mala beads, Buddhist beads or Buddhist prayer beads.

How to Use Mala Beads for Meditation

Using a mala is simple, easy, and enjoyable. Follow these 8 steps to get started:

  1. Clarify the intention of your practice and choose your mantra or affirmation.
  2. Find a comfortable space and sit quietly in a cross-legged position.
  3. Close your eyes and observe the speed and your natural deep breaths.
  4. Begin to breathe deeply and bring your focus and attention to your mantra or affirmation.
  5. Hang the first mala bead gently on the middle finger or ring finger of your right hand.
  6. Place your thumb on the guru bead and begin reciting your mantra.
  7. At the end of the mantra push the mala bead away with your thumb and move onto the next bead for another round. Continue until you reach a count on 7, 21, 27, or 108.
  8. If you wish to do another round of mantras or affirmations, do not skip over the guru bead. Instead, turn the mala around and reverse direction.

Mala Beads for Prayer

When using mala beads for the first time, there are only a few simple rules to follow, one of which is to take your time. The point of meditation is to silence your mind and go within. With that being said, the mala is a tool to focus on reciting your mantra, or prayer in order to keep the mind from wandering and evoke the intention you’re setting.

So when you use the mala beads, start at one end grasping the first bead between your thumb and middle finger. It is generally believed that the index finger represents the ego, so try not to use it to turn the string of beads. If you’d like you can spin the bead between these two fingers while reciting your mantra. Then when you’re ready, move on to the next bead and repeat throughout all 108 beads. When you’ve reached the end, if you wish to continue, simply turn the mala over and go back through the beads in the opposite direction.

Mala Beads for Yoga

Though mala is more of a meditative tool, it can be used during yin yoga and other types of yoga with slow and gentle movement. Of course, this is just in reference to hatha yoga—meditation and the practice of Japa mala could be considered a yoga practice in itself as yoga is more of an overarching term for a path of spiritual endeavor.

What Are Some Good Mantras?

The mantra you use while practicing meditation with your mala beads can literally be anything you want it to be. Depending on the type of intention you want to set or the feeling you want to focus on, your mantra can be as intricate or as simplistic as you desire.

In English, your mantra could be something like, “I love myself,” or “I am strong,” or “I attract abundance.”

Popular mantras of eastern spiritual practices like Hinduism and Buddhism include “Om Namah Shivaya,” or “Om Mani Padme Hum,” or even just “Om.”

Types and Styles

Malas are always made with round beads. These beads are usually 7-8mm in size or 10mm, and their shape allows them glide easily through your fingers. Traditional malas are made with Rudraksha beads, lotus seed beads, yak bone, Bodhi seeds, or wood.

Healing malas are made from gemstones, which have different energies, properties, and colors. For example, there are many malas that are made from black onyx, turquoise, rose quartz, or jade. Less common are malas made from round glass beads or glass crystal, and often these malas are used for color therapy.

There are several mala styles. Some malas are made with only 108 beads, a guru, and a tassel. Others have markers at 7 and/or 21 which make the piece useable in shorter mantra meditations. Some malas look like necklaces and have 108 mala beads with only a guru.

All 108 mala beads can be worn as necklaces or as wrapped bracelets, and many Western practitioners wear their malas when they are off the mat to remind them of their yoga practice. There are also mala bracelets that can be made from 21 or 27 beads for shorter meditations and these malas are often worn as bracelets off the mat.

Why Are There 108 Beads on a Mala Generally?

The reason there are 108 beads on a mala is due to the fact the number 108 is considered to be sacred or auspicious in eastern philosophy and there are a few different thoughts on why this is.

In the Sanskrit alphabet, there are 54 letters each with a masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) energy. If you multiply these 54 characters by their two gender counterparts you get 108. There are also 108 chapters in the sacred Hindu text known as the Rig Veda as well as the number of another sacred Hindu collection known as the Upanishads.

The diameter of the Sun is also said to be roughly 108 times that of the Earth’s, while the distance between the Earth and the Sun is roughly 108 times the diameter of the Sun.

There are also said to be 108 nadis in yogic philosophy which make up our heart chakra.

What is the Guru Bead on the Mala?

The guru bead on a mala is the middle bead that marks the beginning and end of the mala. The guru bead is typically larger than the rest so that you are able to tell when you have reached an endpoint. This bead is known as the guru bead because it is meant to signify and remind the student of their guru and the particular mantra said during Japa mala that was given to them by their guru.

Choosing The Right Mala Beads

When choosing a mala, use your intuition first. If a mala appeals to you, it will be the right mala for you at this time. You can also choose a mala based on the intention of your yoga practice. For example, if you feel that you need more grounding and centering on and off the mat, choose a mala made from agate which is a grounding stone. You can also choose a mala based on its color. If you like the color it is more likely that you will find the opportunity to wear your mala, keep it near you throughout the day, or be happy to see it in your shrine.

You can choose a mala based on color if you are also working on your chakras. For example, if you are working on opening your throat chakra, a mala made from blue stones such as turquoise would be perfect, because this stone and color are both excellent for opening the throat chakra. When buying a mala made from gemstones for healing or chakra therapy, make sure that the mala maker uses a gemstone reference guide.

Finding Quality Mala Beads

Your mala should last a long time. A mala that is high quality can withstand use on and off the mat. If you are buying a gemstone mala make sure the beads are of an A or B or C grade. You also want to make sure that the string that the mala is strung on is a premium thread or wire. The best wire is one that has passed a 30lb test. This means that the thread or wire can hold that much weight before being compromised.

The method of knotting is also important to ensure that your piece lasts a long time. Sellers should stand behind their products, and they should be willing to restring your mala if it breaks. Finally, mala beads can be stored in a fabric bag when not in use. Fabrics that are natural are best, for example, cotton, linen, silk, or velvet. Some sellers offer a mala bag with purchase others offer them for sale as a complementary product.

How Do You Purify Mala Beads?

Purifying mala beads can be done in a number of ways, and if you’ve ever purified another sacred item such as a crystal or totem you can use the same methods.

  • Burn sage around the mala to remove negative energy and impurities
  • Chant and pray for well-being with the mala in hand
  • Rinse the mala in water that’s been purified or with a bit of salt added to it. Note: some malas may not be safe to rinse in water (especially salt water) if they’re made of sandalwood or other delicate material.
  • Leave the mala out in natural light (sunlight or moonlight

Is it OK to Wear Mala Beads as Jewelry?

Though wearing mala beads as jewelry has become a chic look for yogis and spiritual seekers, mala beads are meant to be used as a tool for meditation. While it’s ok to wear the mala beads in your everyday life, they are typically considered a sacred tool and thus should be treated with respect, rather than merely an accessory.

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