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A Mala is a string of beads used to count mantras (Sanskrit prayers) in sets of 108 repetitions as a form of meditation. While this is the primary way to use malas, there are several other ways to practice with them to strengthen your mind and heal your mind, body, and heart. Most of these five main techniques can be combined to amplify the mental, spiritual and healing effects of using malas. We hope you find at least one meditative practice to fall in love with!
5 Ways to Use Malas
The following techniques will give you the most effective and efficient results for using your japamala beads. Experiment and find the right practice for using your malas that work best for your personality, intentions, and life goals.
1. Japa Beads Meditation (Mantra Meditation)
While chanting and using a string of beads is used as a spiritual tool in virtually every cultural and religious practice, there is a very specific technique on how to use yoga malas or Buddhist prayer beads for meditation and spiritual activation. The following traditional techniques will give you the most effective and efficient results for using your mala for chanting and meditation. You will need to choose a mantra for this practice.
The practice of chanting a mantra while using prayer beads is called japa meditation. This style of meditating with beads is used frequently in yoga and Buddhism. Japa meditation is generally practiced while seated but can also be done standing and while walking. The chant is repeated silently or aloud and can be repeated as slowly or as quickly as necessary to keep one’s attention focused. It is recommended to meditate at least once per day. Meditating for at least 10 minutes will have the most benefits.
Six simple steps for mantra bead meditation:
1. Find a comfortable yet well-aligned position for meditation. Traditionally meditation is practiced seated on the floor. Cushions or folded blankets can be used under the sitting bones to keep the back comfortable. If seated in a chair have the feet flat on the floor and keep the spine straight–do not lean into the back of the chair if possible. Root down through the legs as you lift up through the crown of the head. Keep the shoulders relaxed and the heart open and lifted. The most common seated poses for meditation are Easy Pose, Accomplished Pose, Hero Pose, and Half Lotus Pose.
2. During japa meditation the eyes can be open with a soft gaze or the eyes can be gently closed. This helps bring your attention and awareness inwards. Try to minimize all external distractions. A quiet, dimly lit room will be best to meditate in.
3. The breath should be slow, deep and relaxed. Breathe slowly in and out through your nose. Use diaphragmatic breathing during meditation–feel your belly expand outwards with each inhalation and contract with the exhalation.
4. Hold your mala in your right hand (in India the left hand is considered impure) and use your thumb and middle finger to “count” each mantra by touching the gemstone or seed during the recitation of the chant. On each recitation lightly pull the bead towards you with your fingers as you complete the mantra to moving to the next bead. The index finger is extended away from the hand and should not touch the prayer beads or be used for counting. The large meru (mountain) or guru (teacher) bead should not be counted or touched by the thumb. The guru is used as the marker for the starting and ending point of the recitation.
5. Continue by pulling the beads with your fingers for each mantra until you end at the meru or guru and have completed 108 repetitions. (If you have a bracelet of 27 beads you will need to repeat this 3 more times.) You can continue with the practice chanting repetitions of 108 mantras.
6. Keep your mind focused on the mantra and centered on the feeling of the thumb touching the mala bead. When thoughts arise shift your attention back to the chant and the mala. Experiment with the tempo of the mantra recitation to find the pace that is most able to focus your attention. Some yogic and Buddhist traditions synchronize the breath with the chanting to further focus the mind.
Choosing a Mantra
A mantra is a word or series of words chanted aloud or silently to invoke spiritual qualities. In the yogic practice, a mantra is a Sanskrit word that has special powers to transform consciousness, promote healing or fulfill desires. A Buddhist or Sanskrit mantra is either given to you by a teacher or chosen by yourself. When selecting a mantra, be clear on what your intention is, and use your intuition over your intellect. You may want to try out each chant for a few repetitions and see how it feels to you and choose the one that feels like it fits best for you.
Empowering Malas and Mantras
To empower the malas and the mantras your practice with, japa meditation should be practiced each day for 40 continuous days. When malas become empowered they can be worn or lightly placed on oneself or others to transmit the energy of the mantra as well as the energetic qualities of the malas. (It can be worn prior to this–it just will not have this amount of power yet.) When you use a new mantra with a mala, this energy becomes replaced, so it is recommended to use a new mala with each mantra if possible.
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2. Breathing meditation practice
You can use malas in conjunction with a classical yoga breathing meditation. This method will help to slow your breathing rate and to focus and calm your mind. For this breathing meditation, you will hold and use your buddhist prayer beads the same way as you do for the japa meditation technique.
For this breathing meditation, repeat these four distinct steps:
2. Pause for 1-2 seconds.
3. Slowly exhale the breath out through the nose.
4. Pause for 1-2 seconds.
For each round, either count each breath with each bead on the mala, or use one bead to count each of the four steps of the breath. Focus your mind on the sensation of each of these four steps of your breath as you touch each bead with your fingers. Whenever thoughts or distractions arise in your mind, turn your focus back to the feelings of your breathing and the touching of each gemstone or seed.
3. Gratitude contemplation practice
The simple practice of gratitude has been scientifically shown to cultivate empathy and mental resilience and to improve sleep, self-esteem and mental and physical health. To practice this gratitude contemplation you will hold and use your malas the same way as you do for the japa meditation technique. Start with a few slow deep breaths to clear your mind and then proceed thinking or feeling of something you are grateful for. Each time you touch a new mala bead think of something you are grateful for. Do not limit yourself by thinking anything is too small or insignificant to be grateful for. It is okay to repeat the same thoughts of gratitude but try and challenge yourself to think of as many new things as possible. Know that the more you practice this the easier this process will become. Whenever thoughts or distractions arise in your mind, turn your focus back to the feelings of gratitude, your heart center, and your hand as it is the touching the prayer bead.
4. Mind-body Healing
Using, wearing, touching or placing a gemstone mala bead on your body will transmit the specific healing powers to benefit your body, mind, and heart. The mala’s guru bead is thought to store the power of the japamala. This technique is great because you don’t have to think about using it in this way as it automatically happens. Obviously, when used with intention and purpose the healing effects will become stronger and more potent.
5. Fashion statement
Wearing meditation malas only as a fashion statement is generally frowned upon by dedicated yogis and Buddhists. But in modern times it is more acceptable to see people wearing mala necklaces outside of the yoga studio and meditation halls. Displaying malas in public has certainly become a chic, trendy boho and hippy fashion style. Showing malas is also a way to communicate to others around you that you have a dedicated yoga and meditation practice. Be clear on what your intention is when wearing malas out in public so that it becomes an extension of your path of mindfulness.
How to wear Malas
There are three different ways to wear malas:
1. Wear a necklace mala around your neck. This is the most common way to wear malas. You can have the guru or meru bead down near your heart or you can wear it the opposite way with the guru or meru bead behind your neck.
2. Wrap a necklace mala around your wrist. You will need to wrap your full mala around 3-4 times to fit on your wrist. Not all malas will work as this depends on the mala’s length. Wrapping a mala isn’t recommended as it will put tension on the cord and reduce the lifespan of the mala.
3. Wear a bracelet mala around your wrist. This is the only option for wrist malas. If you find the tassel is getting in the way of your daily activities you can either flip the mala around during these activities or you can use a pair of sharp scissors to trim the tassel short.
It is important to note that when mala beads are displayed outwards to people and the environment the power of the beads can be diminished. Thus it is recommended to wear your meditation beads inside your clothing if possible. This will not be as important if you are around friends or like-minded people and are in a calm and nurturing environment.
How to store Mala Beads
When not in use, store your malas in a special, clean and preferably sacred space. A great place to store a mala is on a personal altar or statue of a deity. Most importantly, store your malas in a location filled with love, peace and devotion. We also sell beautiful mala bags and boxes to store your chanting beads and sacred items in.
Rules on Using Malas
Now that you know all of the ways to use mala, check out our complete guide of the 26 traditional rules and customs of using chanting beads.