What are mala beads? Are they a decorative necklace or spiritual piece? Literally, mala translates from Sanskrit to English to mean garland. For some though, mala beads are used as a meditation tool. When I was traveling in India I wanted to buy a mala and when I would ask for mala each time I would be shown beautiful decorative necklaces with stones, clasps, and none that looked anything like the mala I was searching for. That is because I was asking for a garland, not a meditation piece. The mala I was searching for is referred to as a Japa Mala. This is a string of 108 beads used for Japa Meditation. The spiritual practice of meditation uses mala beads as a tool in meditation. The 108 beads can be used to count while one repeats a chosen mantra or intention.
108 is considered an auspicious or sacred number in Hinduism. There are many different theories of why the number 108. One example is that the number 1 stands for the universe; 0 stands for humility in spiritual practice; and 8 stands for infinity and timelessness.
Of course malas can be worn as decorative necklaces or bracelets and make quite the statement piece. Malas are made with an array beads and stones which provide different healing properties. For example, ocean jasper is a calming stone. So even if you are not meditating with your mala, the vibrations from the gemstones will give you energetic benefits. Mala often serve as a daily reminder to live a life with intention and to live in the present moment.
When choosing your own mala, find one that has stones or beads that speak to you. Find stones that support you in your journey. If you are in need of more soothing and healing in your life, look for blue quartz. Or, if you are looking for strength you may want a mala made from black onyx. A personal favorite for mala and meditation pieces is the company Tiny Devotions. They have beautiful mala, bracelets, and rings that all speak to different intentions.
How to use mala for meditation:
Mala is not always used for meditation, but it is a helpful tool to keep you on track. Here is how you can start a meditation practice using mala beads:
1. Find a comfortable seat. You can sit on a chair with your feet firmly planted on the ground or sit on a block or cushion on the floor in a quiet area where you will not be disturbed.
2. Place your mala in your right hand, and have it draped between your middle and index fingers.
3. With your mantra in mind (it could be a simple 'OM', 'Shanti', or 'I am peace') start with the large guru bead and use your thumb to count each smaller bead. Bring it toward you as your recite your mantra, traveling around the mala. You will do this 108 times.
4. You can continue the meditation by reversing the direction or simply stopping after 108.
In the spirit of the mala and the auspicious number 108, I created the Mala Cowl knitting pattern. It uses the brioche stitch pattern and knitting it can serve as it's own meditation. The mantra would be your stitches as you knit the 108 stitches of each row. For example, your mantra for one row would be 'sl1yo, brp', and so on.
When you are first starting out in meditation, using mala beads, or a knit pattern as a mantra can help you get used to the meditation practice. Many people struggle with quieting the mind when they meditate, so repeating a mantra is a great way to start. Eventually these things may fall away an you won't need any tools, but to start be easy on yourself and work on concentration. That is how it all begins, we learn one pointed focus that eventually takes us to a deeper state of meditation.