Meditating with Mala

Life can be tricky. I’ve read that life is the highest energy that you believe in, experiencing itself. I think that’s a beautiful description. But life is also challenging and exhausting and we seem to have less tools to deal with this than ever.


In my Naturopathic clinic, I regularly see clients for stress and anxiety. One of the questions I always ask, is if they practice meditation or mindfulness and the answer is usually no. Actually, the answer is usually, ‘I should.’ But, it’s really hard to find time to sit and breathe and frustrating to try to calm a busy mind in a busy day.


So what can you do?


Grab yourself a mala!


I first fell in love with this simple string of beads back in 2004 at my yoga teacher training in Thailand. Someone held up a beautiful Rosewood mala looking for its owner, which sadly wasn’t me (although I did get my first mala, a rosewood one, soon after.)


Mala beads are correctly known as Japa Mala (japa is Sanskrit for ‘recitation’ and mala is Sanskrit for ‘garland’) and originated back in the 8th century BC in India. When the Romans invaded India, they mistook japa for jap, the Latin word for rose and Mala beads became known as Rosary Beads.


I think these Ancient Seers of India recognised how hard it is to sit still and gave someone like me a string of 108 seeds to help them out. And then told that someone like me to carry their string of seeds around to remind them to meditate and to remember how it feels when you feel calm. I don’t really think things have changed!


Mala beads are traditionally made of 108 beads, 108 being a sacred number. 108 is the number representing the universe, but there are also 108 sacred Upanishads (sacred texts), there are 108 sacred sites in India, there are 108 lines of energy that all connect to form the heart chakra, the sun’s distance to the earth is 108 times the sun’s diameter and the sun’s diameter is 108 times the earth’s diameter! All pretty cool stuff!


So how do you use a Mala?


It’s really lovely and easy. Allow your mala to drape over the middle finger on your right hand, with your thumb on the first bead. Now you need a mantra. You can use ‘Om’, or a favourite of mine is the Gayatri Mantra. But you can also use a one word affirmation like ‘Love,’ ‘Peace,’ or ‘Calm.’ Recite the mantra you’re going to use while your thumb rests on this first bead, push the bead away from you with your thumb and repeat. You don’t need to do 108 recitations in one sitting, but if you do, you can go all the way around your mala. When you get back to where you started, you’ll have a bead or a tassel. This is called the ‘Guru’ bead. Instead of going past this, flip your mala around and go back the other way.


The beauty of a mala is that whether you recite your mantra at top speed in your car outside your kid’s school before pick up, or slowly and peacefully on your mat after a yoga practice, the effects and benefits are the same.


Mala beads can be made from anything, from seeds to wood to crystals. Whatever they are made from, they are definitely made to be used and worn. Even if you don’t use them to recite a mantra, you can still use them when meditate just by holding them. After you’ve used them for some time, just seeing them, holding them or wearing them will invoke a beautifully calm feeling to carry with you through the day.