If you practice yoga and meditation, chances are you have come across Mala beads and Mala jewellery and wondered what they are for and how to use them to enhance your practice & ease anxiety? Kati A Treble, Founder of Kati Kaia eco yoga mats shares why she started to use them in yoga.
Mala beads, commonly known as a Japa Mala or simply Mala, are a type of prayer & meditation beads. Prayer beads have been used for centuries by a range of religions, from Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism to Catholicism. Today, they are sometimes used as a mindfulness aid without any religious affiliation and especially are used in yoga or meditation practice.
Why use a Mala?
A wonderful tool to settle the mind, clear your thoughts and bring you quickly into the present moment. Malas are growing in popularity and can be a great complement to your meditation practice and to practice mantra meditation. Mantra meditation can be a very effective way of easing anxieties, as mantras are typically repeated hundreds or even thousands of times! This brings you snap into the present moment, which is the only place the past and future do not exist. Repeating a mantra can calm yourself down, be especially useful when quitting addictions or easing stress.
The mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the words rather than counting it’s repetitions, so you may switch off from concentration and just be. We use our Malas on a daily basis and find them to be a very special element to our practice and a wonderful way to set intentions for the day ahead or as part of a gratitude practice. Continuing to wear them through the day as a reminder to ourselves to ‘be peaceful’ or ‘be kind to oneself’.
Japa Mala Meditation has been proven to help reduce stress levels, improve sleep, and lower blood pressure, help to slow respiration and encourage well-being. But it isn’t always easy. Many people find it a little difficult, especially in the beginning, to keep their mind from wandering off… that’s where mala beads come in… bringing your focus back to your mantra or breath which each bead.
“More than just a beautiful adornment, malas are powerful and symbolic tools for yoga and meditation…“
What is a Mala?
Traditionally Mala Necklaces include 108 beads in addition to a guru bead and often a tassel. 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, it can be larger than the other beads or textured. Malas can be made from semi-precious stones and crystals, each holding different properties and meanings which can add different energies for the user and you may feel drawn to specific stones for your practice, it is very individual.
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,” or a few words, such as “I am peace, I am enough” or even 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. The Guru bead is sometimes considered sacred, so you may want to skip over the Guru and simply reverse the direction of counting, we show how to do this in the video below.
Malas can be a significant part of your meditation practice. You can use mala beads in a variety of ways during meditation, but breath control and mantra repetition are two good starting points and great places for beginners to start learning the tools of surrendering thoughts and clearing the mind, but with a calm focus. It can take some time, but these are the tools that will stand you well, especially with the battle of anxiety, comparison, self-love and relieving stress. A tool you can take everywhere with you.
Breath Control: Enhance Your Pranayama Practice
One of the easiest places to begin your meditation journey and to simply bring yourself into the present moment is by using and counting the breath. As you inhale and exhale, begin to slow the breath down and holding your mala in one hand you can begin to move the mala through, moving one bead with each full breath, let them guide you:
- Hold your mala with one hand.
- Let it drape across your fingers so you can move it easily. Place two fingers around one of the beads next to the guru bead. Many people use their thumb and middle finger, as some religious traditions avoid using the index finger as this relates to the ego and this is about melting the ego/chatter in our minds.
- Complete one full breath (inhale and exhale).
- Move your fingers to the next bead, breathing in and out once per bead. This is a time to slow down, to be patient and to breathe slowly your anxieties will start to clear.
- Finish at the guru bead to complete 108 breaths.
- If you want to do another round, just move your fingers in the opposite direction until you reach the guru bead again. (See our video below of how to skip over the Guru)
Repeating a Mantra: Japa Mala Meditation
Try practicing a Japa mantra meditation, setting an intention and allowing the beads to be a grounding element as you follow them while narrating your words. A mantra is a phrase, word, or sound you can use to help focus your awareness during meditation and switch off the mind… “Om” is a common one, but there are countless others – you can find inspiration in our Top 5 Yoga Mantras.
You can also create your own mantra that feels reassuring or calming. For example, your mantra might be “I am calm,” “I am safe,” or “I am loved.” The mantra you repeat can also vary depending on your current situation. Some practices of Mantra meditation give you a special word which has no meaning and is simply a tool to deepen your connection quickly and turn off the thoughts and control of the thinking mind. This is personal to you, like Transcendental Meditation or TM as it is sometimes called. It can be a word that has no meaning in your language, you may just like the sound when you repeat it.
To use the mala beads with a mantra, follow the same process as you would for controlling your breath, but instead of exhaling and inhaling at each bead, repeat your mantra. You can whisper it, say it in a loud clear voice, or stick to a mental repetition — whatever feels best to you. It is simply repeating the process of de-cluttering the mind, re-wiring your thought pattern and sitting with a clear connection in the present moment. This can be especially great way of dealing with stress, rather than reaching straight for that glass of wine or whatever takes your usual fancy. Take a moment to be still, to calm your whirring mind and feel a connection to your emotions and your ‘self’. It is better to face your emotions with some intelligence and recognition of how you are feeling, than to supress them deep.
Sitting with your mala will help.
- Find a comfortable seat (you may want to sit on a cushion or a block to raise your hips).
- Choose a mantra that speaks to you. Some examples to get you started: om, om shanti shanti shanti, om namo guru dev namo, or, I am enough, I am healing.
- Hold the mala in one hand and let it hang freely.
- As you move your fingers to the next bead, repeat your mantra out loud, as a whisper, or silently in your mind. Repeat until your mind is clear of chatter and thought.
- Continue until you feel the guru bead again. The Guru bead is sometimes considered sacred, so you may want to skip over the Guru and reverse the direction. We show how to do this in the video below. You can feel the Guru gently, your mala Guru will be a different texture.
Malas can be such a wonderful tool, especially for those new to meditation. A gift to a very stressed-out friend or family member to get them started and a great introduction to the yogic state of mind for beginners. A tool for quitting smoking and addiction therapy, especially when stressed or dealing with strong emotions such as anger or grief. They can simply be used to connect your body and mind to your breath and take a little time to be mindful – in the switched-on world we live in.
To honour your practice, you may want to set your mala at the top of your yoga mat as an ode to your intentions as you practice yoga asana. You can also wear your mala necklace or bracelet to remind you of your intentions and goals ‘to feel less stress daily’ or ‘live with a full heart’ or just not to get cross with Sue in Finance!
Perhaps you set intentions with the lunar cycles and you would like to remind yourself of that intention. You may want to meditate with a mala necklace and then wear a bracelet as a simple reminder of your promise through the day, whenever you glance at your wrist. There are many ways to use them and each one is as personal a story as the next.
Enjoy your Japa Mala Practice and the best way to get started is just to begin.
Buy Kati Kaia Mala mala beads and bracelets here.