What is a mala, anyway?

What is a mala, anyway?

One of my creative outlets is to make hand knotted mala beads. I also make jewellery using the same beads, seeds, and stones, that are not mala beads. For me, the distinction is important and I would like to pass on my thoughts for you to consider.

All my mala beads and jewellery are listed in the shop, or you can send me an email and I can put together a bespoke piece. I can also repair malas, whether they are from Exhale or elsewhere. Simply get in touch and we can chat about it.

All the materials are ethically sourced and the packaging is recycled and recyclable. I use extra strong nylon knotting cord (as opposed to silk) so they are perfect for vegans to use and enjoy.

What are mala beads?

Mala means ‘garland’. They are simply a set of beads that you pass through your fingers to keep count of a repeated mantra – known as japa meditation.

The beads could be gemstones, Rudraksha seeds, wooden beads – anything that can be strung.

Each mala has 108 beads or seeds, plus a more prominent 109th bead called the Guru or Meru. Malas can have double, half, or quarter that number of beads too.

My malas are hand knotted between each bead. This stops the beads and seeds touching one another to preserve them – physically and energetically. It also makes it easier to pass each bead along as you chant.

Should I wear malas as jewellery?

This is an interesting question and culturally sensitive.

It is important to honour the heritage of mala beads and be respectful of the traditions surrounding them. Yoga is not a religion, but was borne out of a culture where religions and philosophies are entwined. In many people’s cases the boundary is non-existent.

I am neither a Hindu nor a Buddhist but I do meditate with mala beads. So, I choose not to wear mine as a necklace or wrapped around my wrist. This stops my mala getting dirty while I work, shop, clean, or eat. And I don’t think it is appropriate to wear it in the bathroom.

Some people have small versions of the full mala beads: half malas (72 beads) and sumirani (27 beads and worn around the wrist). But even those these might be more visible, they are still there as an aid to meditate rather than as a fashion accessory.

Instead, I use many of the gemstones, beads, and seeds in bracelets and necklaces. And enjoy their inherent qualities and adornment that way.

How do I choose a mala?

If this is your first mala then don’t over think it – if there is one you are particularly drawn to then go for that. If you like a particular colour then go for that. It’s what you do with it that counts.

I tend to make collections of malas along a theme – chakras, elements, crystal qualities. And sometimes, just because the stones seem to work well together.

I am also an advocate for using colour to help you, so if there is a colour you are drawn to in life generally, then you could choose a mala that aligns or compliments that. This is particularly useful if you are buying the mala as a present.

How to use your Mala Beads

Hindu beliefs find the feet to be an impure part of the body. I never place my mala on the floor, next to shoes or on my yoga mat, I also tuck my mala inside my top if it is around my neck for some reason.

I prefer to hold my mala in my right hand because in India, the left hand is used for unclean purposes. Some Tibetan traditions favour the left hand because it is said to bring blessings and virtue.

  • Find a comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Try and keep your spine long and your heart open.
  • Spend a few moments with your eyes closed, finding a sense of calm and focus while you choose your mantra.
  • Drape your mala over the ring finger of your right hand. You can use your third finger if that is more comfortable and might be particularly useful if you are working on your throat chakra for example – more on that in another post!
  • Start with the bead or seed next to the Guru (or Meru) bead. Using your thumb, pull the bead towards you (or push it away if that is more comfortable) as you chant your mantra once.
  • You can chant out loud, whisper it, or say it silently in your mind – it is thought to be more powerful to whisper your chant than speak it loudly; and more powerful still to repeat it mentally than make any sound.
  • Keep repeating your mantra with each bead as you work your way around the mala.
  • Once you reach the Guru bead, you can either stop or turn the mala around and go back in the opposite direction so that you don’t cross the Guru bead.
  • When you have finished your chanting, simply spend a few moments holding the Guru bead and honour your teachers.
  • Finish by sitting in stillness and observing your breath.

How to look after your mala

My mala lives in a bag in a drawer but any safe place will do. You could always place them on your altar if you have one. One of my teachers, keeps hers on the corner of a photo of her teacher.

Your mala shouldn’t need washing as hopefully you are keeping it clean. But many people find that meditating with malas can release a lot of energy. The beads absorb this energy and will need energetic cleansing.

You can simply leave your mala out overnight when there is a full moon or on a quartz crystal. Some people use the smoke of a smudge stick to cleanse their malas.

Some mantras for you to try

Enjoy researching and finding a mantra that is meaningful to you. In the meantime, here are a few to try if you are unsure. The pronunciation of Sanskrit is very important and it is worth familiarising yourself with how to pronounce your mantra correctly. There is absolutely nothing wrong with chanting in your native language.

Om – pronounced A-U-M and chanted simply and relatively quickly. The word Om holds great significance in meaning and represents the three levels of consciousness. The vibrational sound is said to be the primordial sound of creation. You could spend a lifetime reading solely about Om and it is a fascinating subject to explore.

So Hum – pronounced ‘Sew Ham’ and meaning ‘I am That’. This is an interesting one to combine with your breath (So: inhale, Hum: exhale). It can also be reversed as you reverse the mala, so you chant So Hum 108 times, turn back at the guru and chant Hum So as you return through 108 beads.

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu – pronounced ‘Low-kah Sah-mahs-tah Soo-kee-no Bah-vahn-too’. It means ‘may all beings everywhere be happy and free. May my life somehow contribute to that happiness and freedom.’

Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham, Aum, Om. This mantra balances and supports the chakra energies from root to crown. These Bija (seed) sounds have no translation but the power lies in their vibration. I have a particular mala that I use for this that has all the seven colours corresponding to the chakras in repetition around the mala and then three beads that have a rougher texture (so I can feel them when I get to them with my eyes closed), at which point I chant Om three times.

Om Mani Padme Hum – pronounced ‘Aum, Mah-nee, Pad-may, Hum’. Mani symbolises a jewel and represents method, compassion and love – the unselfish intention of enlightenment. Padme means lotus and is a symbol of wisdom. Hum means ‘inseparable’, so that purity can be achieved by the union of method and wisdom.