The Benefits and Uses of Mala Beads
In modern yogi times, especially in the United States, mala necklaces and bracelets are increasing in popularity. You can find them for sale at many yoga studios, online through specialty retailers like Silver and Sage and Tiny Devotions, and handmade, one-of-a-kind creations by local artists on Etsy.
Malas are often used as decorations, jewelry, or during seated meditation. You may see malas adorning the wrists, necks, and altars of meditation devotees and at the top of mats of yoga practitioners. These beautiful necklaces often hold special significance for the bearer based on where they got it, why they chose the stones, and the energy resonance they feel with the beads.
Traditionally a mala—which means “garland”—has 108 beads strung together and one “guru bead,” which is larger than the rest. The guru bead is used as a place marker for the fingers to feel for the end or the beginning of the necklace for meditation or mantra chanting. Sometimes there are special or different shaped beads placed after every 27th bead to make it easier to keep track of the mantra. You’ll often also find bracelets and decorative necklaces with 54 or 27 beads, half and a quarter of the 108 respectively. Nowadays, malas are made out of a variety of materials including wood, seeds, stones, pearls, and crystals.
Benefits of Using Mala Beads
A common way to use the mala is to track a “japa,” or mantra meditation. The repetitive recitation of a single sound, such as “om,” a few words, such as “om mani padme hum,” or a longer mantra, such as the Gayatri Mantra, can be calming and transformative. Whether you’re chanting out loud, whispering, or repeating a phrase silently, tracing the beads of the mala with your fingers can help you keep track of the japa. “Japa” translates to “muttering” in Sanskrit.
Similar to praying with rosary beads, meditating with a japa mala has been shown to help slow respiration and encourage well-being. Repeating the mantra of your choosing redirects the mind from daily obsessions and introduces positive thought patterns. Similar devices have been used for generations in a variety of spiritual traditions including:
Meditation positively affects the brain and mood and practitioners report feeling relaxed, having better focused attention, and enhanced self-awareness. Consider the pose Malasana, commonly cued as “Yogi Squat.” The yogi squats and brings the hands to the heart, representing a single bead on the mala necklace, the yogi is small, individual, and unique. Just like each of the beads that are intimately connected to all the others through the string of the mala, the yogi is intimately connected to all other beings. This is the reminder of this pose: though individually we are special, together we are stronger.
Malas can be a significant part of your meditation practice. Here are some unique ways to use a mala: