I practice yoga at YogaWorks in the South Bay in Los Angeles. As I’ve already mentioned, going to yoga was a challenge at first. The first two months I felt uncomfortable in class and left each one crying and vowing to never come back. However, my need for a change was bigger than my fears and doubts. I kept going until I was actually looking forward to my classes.
One Saturday after Urban Zen I went to the check-in counter and started looking at a display of beaded necklaces and bracelets. The necklaces had a tag that had the stone used in the piece, the word “mala” and healing properties that the necklace offered. I was instantly confused because the only meaning I knew for the word “mala” was bad in Spanish and these beautiful pieces of beaded jewelry couldn’t be a bad thing!
One of the Yoga Advisors was behind the desk and along one of her her arms she had a stack of mala bracelets 15 deep, at least. She also wore 4-5 necklaces. I had the perfect person to ask. At first she gave me a quick answer, “You wear the mala beads to help you with things that are bothering you. Different stones help with different things.” I nodded and noticed that the bracelets sometimes identified the stone but not the properties associated with the stone. I asked the Yoga Advisor, “How do you know what each stone helps with?” She went digging around behind the check-in counter and produced a chart for me listing stones and their benefits.
I read each one carefully and started identifying stones that might help me with things I struggle with most. I selected one necklace and three bracelets. As I read, the Yoga Advisor started offering some helpful information, “You should choose a mantra for each mala and say it before putting it on.” I asked, “How do you know what mantra to say?” “Pick something that seems right for you, no one can tell you what mantra to use,” she explained. “Also, don’t forget to cleanse it?” Confusion washed over my face and before I could form a questions for clarification she continued, “Many people use a singing bowl, but you can also place it in a plant or use sage. Anything that will dispel the energy from the malas at the end of the day.” Uh oh…was this some voodoo stuff? Knowing that wasn’t a question I wanted to ask, I instead inquired, “What energy?” The Yoga Advisor simply stated, “The energy it collects during the day.”
Questions swirled in my head, but as the lobby filled with yogis coming for the next set of classes, I made my purchase and decided to continue my research at home. However, the Yoga Advisor told me one more thing before I left, “The bracelet or necklace will break when they have served their purpose.”
Google, forever our friend, provided me with several explanations of what mala beads are and how they should be used. They are also known as Prayer Beads or Meditation Beads. In addition to each piece being made with a particular stone or gem that offers its benefits to the practitioner, it also has other attributes that were significant. First, mala necklaces have a 108 beads and the number 108 has many significant meanings:
- There are said to be 108 afflictions and 108 earthly desires in mortals.
- There are said to be 108 lies that humans tell and 108 human delusions and forms of ignorance.
- The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra.
- There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has a masculine and a feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 x 2 = 108.
- In Pranayama it is said if one is able to be so calm in meditation as to have only 108 breaths in a day, enlightenment will come.
- There are 108 Upanishads, which are texts of wisdom of the ancient sages.
- There are said to be 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.
- The sacred river Ganga spans a longitude of 12 degrees and a latitude of 9 degrees. 9 x 12 =108.
- There are said to be 108 Indian goddess names.
- Some say 1 stands for God or a higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
- The average distance of the moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the moon.
- In astrology, the metal silver is said to represent the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108.
- Some suggest that there are 108 paths to God.
- Finally, after reciting 100 mantras eight extra mantras are recited to allow for any errors.
Wrist malas are often made with 27 or 18 beads so 4 or 6 trips around respectively will equal 108. At the center of each necklace, and sometimes bracelets, there is a larger stone or a stone with a tassel attached that is known as the guru bead. The guru bead helps for tracking your count if you are reciting your mantra more than 108 times and it also signifies reverence for your practice, giving importance to one’s mantra and allowing one to reflect on their intentions.
The goal of a meditation mala is to help focus awareness and concentration. The practitioner should choose a mantra and while passing the beads through the pads of the thumb and middle finger, recite the mantra for each bead. The mala is generally held in the left hand and used with gentleness and respect. Recitation begins with the first bead next to the guru bead and with each count the thumb pulls another bead into place over the middle finger. After completing the full length of the mala, the practitioner flips the mala around 180 degrees and continues as before, in reverse order. One avoids passing over the guru bead, as doing so is symbolically like stepping over one’s teacher. The index finger should never be used to touch the mala because it is believed to represent the ego and be an impediment to self-realization.
Finally, after wearing the beads all day, the practitioner should cleanse the beads of the energy it has collected it throughout the day. This can be done my burning sage and passing it over the beads, by placing the beads overnight in a plant, or finally by using a singing bowl and letting the vibrations of the sound cleanse the mala.
My inner skeptic could come out now. I could question the validity of all this. I could doubt that the beads will miraculous break when I have learned the lessons I seek, giving me a clear signal of growth. I could scoff at the idea of sound or smoke or soil ridding the beads of negative energy. And a year ago I would have done all of these things.
However, my outlook today is very different. Whether the above is true or not, by using my malas and reciting my mantras on a daily basis I am combating one thing I have struggled with my entire adult life. I can silence the negative thoughts that until recently played on a loop in my head: “You’re stupid.”; “You’re fat.”; “You’re ugly.”; “You’re just not good enough.” They are replaced with positive thoughts. Thoughts I repeat 108 times a day, per mala. When you say these positive things over and over again they suffocate the negative thoughts. Throughout the day the weight of the malas around my neck and wrist serve as a reminder of a new way of thinking when and if the negative thoughts try to creep back in. By using this meditation method, I eliminate the space where negativity festered. Like a seed that is planted, each mala gives birth to more positivity in my inner world and for that I am very thankful.
Malas and Mantras:
Here is a list of my current malas, their benefits, and my personal mantra
- Amazonite – Improves self worth and is helpful with fear and anxiety. One may find that they may have more confidence when wearing this stone. My Mantra: “I will find my purpose.”
- Amethyst – Provides spiritual uplift, peace, and increases concentration and awareness. Helps with effective communication, aids in meditation, and balances one’s emotions. It is said to provide more energy and clears energy blockages. My Mantra: “I am worthy of time and care.”
- Botswana Agate – A grounding stone, Botswana Agate helps with focus, provides protection, encourages success and aids in stability. My Mantra: “May I trust in the path and take one step at a time.”
- Hematite – Helps one see practical concerns and rational courses of action by counteracting confusion and absentmindedness. Increases willpower. My Mantra: “I am in control of my eating.”
- Malachite – Provides protection from negative energy, helps resist temptation, and boosts emotional heart energy through the heart chakra. Offers protection and comfort in times of change. My Mantra: “I can change old and unwanted behaviors.”
- Rose Quartz – Offers emotional balance and is very good for expressing and soothing emotions. Represents unconditional love. My Mantra: “I love myself.”
- Tiger’s Eyes – Folklored as a power stone, Tiger’s Eye has a wonderful reputation for attracting wealth, money and luck. Helps with vision and providing a grounding sense of self. My Mantra: “I am beautiful, inside an out.”
- Unakite – Balances physical self and emotions. Aids in patience and helps with fatigue. Promotes positive self-image and regeneration. My Mantra: “May I have patience for myself and others.”
Malas have become a valued part of my daily practice and I was excited when I found the watch pictured made by Jilzara. I found it on Zulily and it is the perfect addition to my mala stack. If you’re looking for your first mala, try the Tibetan Mala Shop or Atma’s Offerings.
Do you use malas? Any tips? Experiences you’d like to share? I’d like to know how you use this particular meditation practice. Share your thoughts, insight, and questions in the comments below.