Mala Beads Demystified

Mala beads can often be mysterious. They are found in various colors, materials, and sizes. Each person who uses a mala has a slightly different reason for having one. Generally, there is one collective reason they are used: to help your mind focus on a specific intention.

What are mala beads?

If you plan to practice meditation regularly, you may want to consider using mala beads. They are a strand of 108 beads used for keeping count during meditation. Malas can be also made into smaller strands of 27 beads, or 9 beads, to be used for shorter meditations. They are often made of various colors of gemstone beads that represent the intention of your practice. For instance, rose quartz beads are thought to represent the heart, love, compassion.  All mala beads can be worn as necklaces or as wrapped bracelets. Many western practitioners wear their malas when they are off the mat to remind them of their practice and their intention.

Think of mala beads as a tangible reminder for what you want to create in your life.

How to use mala beads:

Using a mala is rather simple.  

  1. Clarify the reason, or intention, of your practice. Make this into a mantra, or affirmation. What is your mantra? For example, "Inhale calmness, exhale joy", "I accept myself", "Today, I embrace simplicity", "Everything I have is within me", repeat the word love, or think of something for which you are grateful. Choose your mantra based solely on you, what you are feeling, and what you want to bring forward into your life. Your thoughts are a powerful tool for positive transformation.

  2. Find a comfortable space and sit quietly in a cross legged position, or some way you can sit comfortably. Sometimes, that may mean sitting on a chair with both feet planted to the floor. Close your eyes. Breathe naturally.

  3. Hang the first mala bead gently on the middle or ring finger. The pointer figure is said the be the "accusing" finger. Depending on the lineage of your meditation practice, you will hear right or left hand. Most practitioners use their right hand. Place your thumb on the guru beads (the largest bead that usually has a tassel attached to it) and begin reciting your mantra.

  4. At the end of each mantra, push this first bead away with your thumb and move onto the next bead for another round. Continue until you reach the end of your mala bead. You will know you are at the end once you feel the guru bead because it is larger and has a tassel or object attached to it. When you get to the guru bead it is time for reflection. If you wish to do another round of affirmations, do not pass over the guru bead. Instead, turn the mala around and move in the opposite direction.

"If you want a psychological analysis of the use of a mala, you could say that it is a 'kinesthetic cue device.' Without it, you could be doing the mantra and get lost in doing it mechanically. But if you suddenly feel the bead between your fingers, it wakes you up again. Bead by bead."

- Ram Dass

Benefits of using mala beads:

  • Focus your mind. Meditation is tricky! Your mind can easily race from thought to thought. Using your mala beads provides an anchor so you can stay focused on your meditation.
  • Give a purpose for your practice. Setting your intention through a mantra, or affirmation, gives you a direction from which to practice and a goal for your day.
  • Wear your practice. When you are not practicing, you can take it with you. Wear your malas around your neck, your wrist, or put them somewhere in your home, to be reminded of your intention.

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