When I was 23 years old I found some mala beads in an eclectic gift store in Ocean City, NJ. The tag on the beads said they were made by “Tibetan monks in a monastery,” which piqued my curiosity enough to buy them. As I continued to go deeper with my practice of yoga and meditation I eventually figured out their significance and how to use them. Now, over 20 years later, mala beads are one of my most powerful tools in my yoga toolbox.
Mala is Sanskrit for “garland” and mala beads come as a string of 27, 54 or 108 beads used to count repetitions of mantras during meditation. Malas have one extra bead, usually larger than the others, called the meru (mountain) or guru (teacher) bead. This provides a starting and ending point on the mala for counting, but should not be counted itself.
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I’ve found that the most powerful way to use mala beads to deepen your practice requires a synergy of four components: setting an intention, choosing a mala, selecting a mantra and committing to a 40-day practice.
A sankalpa, intention or prayer, is a short, positive and precise statement about what you wish to attain for yourself and/or the benefit of all. Taking time to craft a clear and potent sankalpa is useful in guiding you towards your choice of a mala and mantra. It is also helpful to invoke your intention at the beginning of your mantra meditation practice.
When choosing a mala, you can use your intention or let your intuition guide you. Know that the type of wood or gemstone beads contained in the mala will carry specific energetic qualities. Ideally, take time to make the process of choosing a mala be a special and personal act or ritual.
Traditionally a mantra was only given by a guru or teacher, but today there are many Sanskrit mantras that you can choose yourself. I recommend having the meaning of the mantra be as closely aligned with your intention as possible. Once you begin repeating your mantra, it is important that the mantra feel right, so give yourself permission to choose a different one after giving it a short test run.
Completing a continuous 40-day practice is essential to empower both the mantra and the mala. This is not an easy commitment to make, but it is deeply rewarding and has the ability to unlock the hidden magic and power of the practice. Here are the basic guidelines for a 40-day mantra meditation practice:
• Try to do your meditation at the same time and in the same place if possible.
• Do a minimum of 108 repetitions of the mantra. If it is a short mantra, do multiple sets of 108.
• Sit in any position as long as the spine is long and the shoulders are relaxed.
• If you forget and miss a day, start over at day one.
It is said that the energy created in your practice becomes infused in your mala. Be mindful of how you wear and store your mala, always treating it as a sacred and treasured item.
Do you own a mala? Let us know how it has deepened or effected your yoga practice in the comments below.