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Introduction to malas

What are malas or mala beads

Simply put, a mala (also called a japa mala) is a string of beads. The Sanskrit word ‘mala’ translates to ‘garland’. Traditionally malas or mala beads are used as an aid for counting the repetitions of mantras or chants during meditation. They are a tool you can use to refocus your intention in meditation.

The specific origin of the mala is unknown as the use of beads for counting was a widespread practice in ancient cultures, however the earliest origins stem from India and Nepal. Mala beads have been used in India in Buddhist and Hindu tradition for over 3,000 years.

Typically mala beads have 108 beads on one string with one larger “guru bead”. Each bead is knotted on by hand with overhand knots which make the mala durable and versatile for use. Malas can be made out a range of materials, traditionally organic materials such as stone, plant seed, wood or metal. Malas made out of gemstones carry the energy of the stones used to amplify your own intentions and affirmation. Due to the nature of these materials, no two malas will ever be exactly the same making each mala a highly personal item.

How to use your mala

As a meditation tool malas help you count and focus. All you need to start meditation with your mala is a calm, comfortable, quiet place to sit, 10-15 minutes of uninterrupted time and of course your mala! Choose the a mantra, intention or affirmation of you want to meditatie on or you can simply focus on your inhale and exhale.

Once you’ve found your seat, hold your mala in your dominant hand with the tassel facing towards and connect with the energy of the beads. Start by closing your eyes and taking deep cleansing breaths to settle in. Bring your focus and attention onto your mantra, intention or affirmation.

Starting at the guru bead move along the mala one bead at a time, using each movement as an opportunity to focus on a breath, mantra, affirmation or intention. This process creates positive spiritual energy – known as ‘japa.’ Move slowly and with intention, turning each bead individually between your fingers.

When using a full length mala you will go through 109 repetitions of your chosen mantra, including the guru bead. If you want to continue your meditation practice for more than one round through your mala, simply reverse direction once you reach the guru bead. Your mala may have counter beads to help you know where in your practice you are.

How to wear your mala

Many wear their malas as a necklace, however traditional malas are almost always worn on the right hand, wrapped around the wrist like a bracelet. Whichever way you choose to wear your mala there are a some guidelines to follow to give this special tool the respect it deserves. Remember this is a spiritual tool for you to connect deeper. As a spiritual tool it is not appropriate for your mala beads to touch the ground. If you want to keep them close during your yoga practice, place your mala on something that elevates it from the ground.

There is debate over whether you should let other people touch your mala. You can do what feels right to you but, before your next mediation practice, it might be a good idea to cleanse the energy of your mala after someone else has touched. In general it is good to cleanse your malas periodically.

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