Ever seen those beaded yoga necklaces and wondered what they mean? They’re called malas. They’re beautiful and interesting to look at but we’ll dig deeper into their meaning and history in this article.
What are Malas?
Mala beads have been used by yogis and spiritual seekers for thousands of years to help keep their minds focused during meditation. Malas were first created in India 3000 years ago and have roots in Hinduism, Buddhism and yoga. The term ‘mala’ is a Sanskrit word for “meditation garland.” Originally, mala beads were used for a special style of meditation called Japa, which means, “to recite.”
A mala is a string of 108 beads with one bead as the summit or head bead called a ‘sumeru.’ Malas are used as a tool to help the mind focus on meditation, or count mantras in sets of 108 repetitions.
The mala’s beads that can be made of seeds, sandalwood or rosewood, or gemstones. The 109th stone, or the guru stone, symbolizes gratitude and our connection to the divine. It is a way to say thank-you to all the spiritual teachers who have helped us on our path to enlightenment.
How are Malas used?
Malas are traditionally held in the right hand, with the mala draped over the middle finger. The counter bead next to the guru represents the start of the meditation practice. Each counter bead is held between the thumb and middle finger. The thumb pulls the next counter bead over the middle finger after each repetition. The index finger does not touch the mala as it represents one’s ego (believed to be the greatest obstacle in attaining enlightenment). Once the last counter bead is reached, one can either end the meditation or continue on by turning around and going the other direction.
The use of mala beads is particularly relevant when it comes to practicing the sixth and seventh limbs of yoga: dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). Holding a counter bead between your fingers brings a single awareness, dharana, into a mantra repetition. Each bead helps keep the mind free of outside thoughts and distractions. With practice, dharana will last for two beads, three beads, then the entire mala. This leads to a steady, continuous stream of concentration — dhyana. At this stage, dhyana allows the mind to become effortlessly quiet and still.
During meditation you repeat a mantra softly, 108 times, using your mala beads to keep track. A mantra is a word or sound repeated during mediation to help you concentrate.
There are many reasons why someone would buy or make a mala. It’s a personal thing. Malas can be anything the wearer/owner wants it to be.
Why I create my own Malas?
I’ve always loved crafting and making jewelry growing up. I discovered malas when I dove deeper into my yoga practice. I noticed both ancient and modern yogis would wear them around their neck or drape them over their hands. I got really curious. This is when I began to research and discover the significance, purpose and history of the mala. And since I love creating things with my hands, it became natural that I wanted to make my own malas.
I always find a sense of grounding and calmness whenever I wear my mala. Whenever I come home tired or stressed out, I find a comfortable seat and I start making a mala. There’s a very meditative and creative quality to making them. I just wanted to share this experience to other people!
How is a Mala worn?
It’s up to you! Malas can be worn as necklaces, and can also be looped multiple times around your wrist as a bracelet. It’s a common belief that when malas are used regularly for mantra meditation, they absorb the vibrations of the practice. So the more you meditate using a mala, the more energy it absorbs and reflects back onto you.
It takes a lot of strength and stamina to maintain this state of stillness in mind throughout a mala. Every stage of progress brings it’s own lessons learned and benefits received. The mala provides a much-needed anchor in these situations. It is, after all, called a mediation practice — not meditation perfection.
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