Mala beads (also known as Japa Malas, Prayer Beads, Buddhist Prayer Beads, and Hindu Prayer Beads) are a string of beads or seeds that you can use during meditation. Like rosaries count prayers, Japa meditation with mala beads counts mantras.
A mantra is a word or phrase you can repeat to yourself or out loud. The number 108 may come from the 108 Upanishads, the 54 + 54 male/female Sanskrit characters, or some believe 108 energy lines in the body lead to the heart.
These are some guidelines I found helpful.
Why use them
- It is a form of meditation helpful if you find sitting still challenging.
- A way to build a spiritual practice
- A path to fulfilling personal intentions or goals
- A way to cultivate the skill of concentration
What are they made of
- Depending on where your mala beads come from, they are made most commonly from deeds, wood, or gemstones.
- Some malas are a combination.
Which ones to use
- One’s you like the look and feel of
- A set that has been given to you by a teacher
- Your birthstone
- A specific chakra you may want to work on that connects to a color
How to use them
Japa meditation has variations on which hand to hold the malas with; generally, its suggested we carry them with the right hand with the guru bead and the tassel up.
- Use them in a seated posture on the floor or in a chair
- If possible, face East or North
- Close or partially close your eyes
- Move slowly from bead to bead without a rush, and say each mantra silently, or out loud.
- Never use your index finger, and keep it up and away from the beads.
- The middle finger is used to rest the mala, and the thumb is used to count
- Use your thumb to move the malas towards you one at a time with each repetition
- The meru or guru bead should not be counted
- Do an entire cycle until you end back at the start.
If the mantra part seems out of your comfort level, but you still want to explore using the beads for meditation, you can also use them in conjunction with a breathing practice. You can move the mala beads after every slow inhale and exhale or whatever pattern works. The main thing is to stay focussed.
What to think/feel while using them.
- Repeat a mantra that you have chosen or has been given to you by a teacher
- Mantra means 'mind-protecting' - a rich word or phrase that is implanted within you through repetition
- Sink into the feelings you are experiencing
- Try and keep a steady rhythm
- A simple mantra is OM if you are unsure how to start
- A gratitude practice known as the Metta meditation is a beautiful use of the mala beads. Consider repeating one or more phrases each time you move the mala bead.
- Don’t put your mala beads on the ground.
- Store them carefully either on an altar or in a bag.
- Pick them up and put them down with care.
- Take your time, try and be present and if your mind wanders, you can always go back a few and start again.
- If you want to wear your malas, it is recommended to do 40 days of daily practice to infuse them with healing power. There is no scientific basis, so just do this if you believe in them.
- Experiment and make it yours.