Mala beads are also known as prayer or meditation beads. Use of them originates in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, but anyone can use these beautiful talismans in daily life.
Malas are used in several capacities; to deepen focus in meditation, tether intentions, and even to set a duration of prayer or meditation practice.
Meaning of 108
The number of beads on a traditional mala is 108, a sacred number with significance in areas of astronomy, astrology, and many philosophies and religions.
Some of my favorite interpretations...
- 1 symbolizes oneness, 0 symbolizes nothingness (or possibility), 8 symbolizes infinity.
- In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets of our solar system.
- The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth.
- The average distance from the moon to the earth is 108 times the diameter of the moon.
- In Hindu culture there are believed to be 108 Goddess avatars.
Construction of mala beads
In addition to the 108 strung beads, there is a guru (also referred to as sumeru, bindu, or stupa) bead that anchors the mala and provides the union point of the ends of the strand.
Knots between each bead provide space for the beads to be passed over the fingers during use. Knots also act as a safety measure should the mala strand break, so that you don't loose any of the beads (well, maybe one!). Don't worry, it is not bad luck to break a mala, it just means that your mala has been fulfilled its purpose. It can be transitioned as an offering on and alter, or puja, serving as a beautiful reminder of your journey.
Malas are often finished with a tassel. Tassels are believed to be protective, capturing negative energy in the threads. They are also very pretty, and I hand make every Hanuman Heart mala tassel with the same silk knotting cord that the mala is strung on, so they are strong, keep their color, and don't fray or tangle.
Using mala beads
Some Hindu traditions practice using the mala with the right hand, draped over the middle finger, with the thumb flicking one bead to the next. The index finger represents ego, the greatest impediment to self-realization, so it is abstained from use.
Deepening focus in meditation or prayer
Connecting to breath is one of the most effective methods to drop into a meditative state. The mala is a useful tool to steady and track the breath.
Find a comfortable seat, in a chair or against a wall if you are new to a seated meditation practice. You can have a soft focus to the eyes, or shut them.
Hold your mala beads draped one side over the middle finger, hand resting on your knee. Using the thumb, pass one bead per breath over the finger.
Often used in meditation is a mantra, or sacred utterance, that can be as simple as one word ("peace", "truth"). It can be verbalized or internally spoken.
Pass one bead per mantra or chant repetition.
Ditch the timer on your phone! One of the amazing features of a mala is timing your meditation practice.
3 steps to freedom from the alarm:
- Set the stopwatch at the beginning of your meditation.
- Take one breath per bead pass, starting at the bead next to the guru bead, and stopping at the bead just before you get back to the guru bead.
- Take a look at the stopwatch. That's how much time it took for you to take 108 breaths, one rotation of your beads. Now you know how long your meditation will be, and if you want a shorter meditation, just start at the top bead and work your way down to the guru bead, a half rotation.
Besides being a useful tool for prayer and meditation, your mala beads can be worn or incorporated into an alter to enhance daily practices. They act as a reminder of intentions, devotion, and creating healing habits.