A mala or japamala is a string of prayer beads used in Hinduism and Buddhism for the spiritual practice known in Sanskrit as Japa. They are similar to other forms of prayer beads used in various religions often known as a “rosary”. While you may have seen many yogis and fashionistas alike rocking them in a Yoga class or in a magazine, a mala or mala necklace is not just a beautiful piece of jewelry. It’s important to remember their origin and how they can help those on a spiritual path.
Mala: A piece of jewelry? What are they really for?
Malas are traditionally used to aid in meditation or chanting. The practitioner uses the mala to track how many recitations they have completed. The main body of a mala is made of 108 beads and a Guru bead; the 109th bead is often of a distinct size or colour, and a tassel. Sometimes a mala may include additional decorative beads. An authentic mala is hand-knotted, and every knot in between each bead is there to help you keep count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra. Even though rudraksha are known to be the oldest prayer beads in India, Nepal and Bali, many other beads are often used. In India for example, they also use sandalwood whereas in Nepal and Tibet, they use bodhi or lotus seeds.
Traditionally, Japa is the repetition of a mantra or a divine name in a meditation practice. However, a Japa practice can also be as simple as chanting Om or taking a full breath cycle for each bead on the mala. You can also softly recite an affirmation or an intention in your own words or in your mind.
What are rudraksha and why are they so magical?
While some modern mala necklaces or bracelets are made entirely of gemstones, traditional malas beads are made of more environmentally friendly materials like rudraksha, sandalwood or bodhi.
Unlike gemstones and crystals (which are sourced from mining), rudraksha are 100% sustainable. They are seeds found in a vibrant blueberry-like fruit of the evergreen Elaeocarpus ganitrus trees, also known as rudraksha trees. This tree flourishes in Southeast Asia and can be found in the Himalayas across India and Nepal as well as in Indonesia where the volcanic soil is favorable to its growth.
Rudraksha literally means “the tears of Shiva” in Sanskrit and you’ll often see rudraksha mala necklaces worn by Lord Shiva in images.
- Rudra: one of Shiva’s vedic names
- Aksa: teardrops
It is said that Shiva emerged from a long meditation on mankind and began to cry tears of compassion. When his tears reached Earth, they transformed into divine seeds for the benefit of humanity, to help them be more at peace and alleviate their suffering.
Rudraksha malas are said to be the most powerful tool in the quest of self-realization. They can help calm the nervous system, reduce stress, and dissipate fear. At OhanaTribe we closely work with the artisans of Aum Rudraksha Designs to make and create our exclusive designs. It is important for me to encourage the local economy of Bali where the rudraksha we use in our designs are harvested, blessed and hand knotted. With each mala necklace and bracelet we help them spread their mission to make our world more peaceful with the healing power of rudraksha beads.
How do I use a mala in my meditation practice?
By now you’ve come to understand that mala beads are meant to help you quiet your monkey mind and feel more at peace. If you would like to use your mala to help you feel calmer and more peaceful, start with finding a mantra, an intention, or an affirmation that supports this state of mind. You can also simply take a full breath cycle (inhale and exhale) as you hold each bead.
- Find a comfortable seat and hold your mala necklace or bracelet in one hand.
- Close your eyes if it feels comfortable.
- Start off with three deep, clearing breaths.
- Once you are ready, simply start turning each bead between your thumb and middle finger.
- Stop at each bead to recite your mantra.
- If you are using a bracelet, simply stop whenever you feel like you’ve reached the state of peacefulness you desire.
- If you are meditating with a mala necklace, you’ll be reciting your mantra 108 times and then when you reach the Guru bead, you take a pause to give thanks to your Guru or to dedicate your meditation to someone. And you can also start all over if you wish to meditate longer.
If meditation is not yet part of your practice or some days you are running out of time, you can simply wear your mala necklace or bracelet as a reminder to reconnect to your breath. Wear them close to you. During your day when you inadvertently reach to your neck or wrist and feel your mala, you can use these tiny moments to serve as a reminder to come back to your breath and become aware of the present moment.
How should I choose a mala for myself or as a gift for someone?
Choosing a mala for yourself is as simple as following your intuition and choosing the one you are spontaneously drawn to. Once you’ve chosen a mala based on your intuition, then investigate the meaning of the gemstones and intention with which the mala was designed. Often you’ll notice that the one you selected has the qualities you may be working on or trying to cultivate into your life. The mala that you are attracted to is the one for you; it’s as simple as that.
When choosing a mala for someone else, think of what they are going through in their lives. Are they going through a break-up, a grief, or starting a new job? Look for the mala that would be the best one for helping them get through their life event or cultivate the energies they are trying to amplify in their lives.
How do I care for my mala?
Rudraksha are very sacred and should be treated with care. When not in use, store your mala beads in a special space and keep them off the ground.
In order to cleanse your mala beads you can:
- Gently wash them with a gentle natural soap and warm water.
- Bathe them in the natural light of the full moon.
- Smudge them with either sage, incense or Palo Santo.
While malas are very beautiful and visually appealing, they are also intended to be an aid to your personal spiritual journey. When you are choosing your mala, select one that is made with intention, made sustainably, and resonates intuitively with you.
Even if you begin wearing your mala for its appeal as jewelry, as you wear it you may be inspired to explore its deeper potential as a tool for your own meditation practice.
I have been part of Rachel’s community of students for many years and would like to give back. If you wish to explore the malas I have designed, visit OhanaTribe’s Mala beads and make sure to use the Promo Code “RachelYoga20” at check out to get a 20% discount on your choice of any Mala Necklace!
Much love and peace to everyone.