What is a Mala Necklace?
In yoga and meditation circles, you have probably seen others wearing tasseled, beaded necklaces. It is not a mere piece of jewelry; it is a mala necklace. In fact, wearing malas only as a fashion statement is generally frowned upon by most spiritualists. What are mala necklaces? Malas are simple strings of beads that can be used in a variety of spiritual ways, including meditation. Counting beads are used in spiritual practice all over the world in a variety of cultures and religions. Prayer beads, rosary beads, and worry beads have been used for centuries.
Sometimes called Japa Mala, this prayer necklace is used predominantly by the Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs. Because yoga has become universally popular, these Buddha prayer beads have also spread to western culture. The name is derived from Sanskrit. Japa means a spiritual discipline involving the meditative repetition of a mantra (or name) of God. Mala means garland. Mantras can help you to grow in your love life, your work life, and more.
The Symbolism of the Mala Necklace and its Materials
Making your mala necklace is a physical representation of working towards your goals and intentions on your spiritual journey. Wearing it and utilizing it is a reminder and tool to help you along that path. Mala beads help to increase focus during meditation, helping to count breaths, mantras, prayers, or intentions.
Mala beads are made in a variety of different materials. The most common types are made from wood, seeds, or semi-precious gemstones. Common gems used for mala beads are garnet, emerald, rose quartz, jade, and onyx. In India, malas are primarily made from sandalwood, tulsi, and rudraksha seeds. In Nepal and Tibet, most malas are made from bodhi seeds, lotus seeds, and bone. Depending on the material used, the properties of the beads will have corresponding energies. When choosing beads for your own mala necklace, choose beads that resonate or call out to your spirit. Mala beads can be made from a single material or mixture of several different kinds
Mala Necklace Beads
Not only are there different materials, there is also a wide array of cuts, sizes, and shapes of beads to choose from. A full string of a mala necklace contains 108 counting beads plus one guru (teacher) or meru (mountain) bead. The guru bead is often larger than the other counting mantra beads and it provides a starting and ending point for counting. When using stones, many mala bead users align their intentions with the metaphysical properties of the guru bead. The guru bead can be the same size as the counting beads or can be larger to stand out more.
The counting beads in a mala are usually between 6mm and 10mm with 8mm being the most common. Mala beads may also contain thin metal spacer beads that are used for decoration and are not to be counted. A tassel, often made of silk or cotton, is connected to the end of the guru/meru bead to finish the mala with a final knot. Sometimes mala beads are strung as a half mala containing 54 beads, or as a wrist mala with 27 counting beads and worn as a bracelet.
Why 108 beads in standard mala necklaces? There are many reasons why the number 108 is very significant in India. The Sanskrit alphabet (from which japa mala comes from) has 108 letters. There are 108 sacred holy sites in India. In yoga, there are 108 sacred texts of the Upanishads and 108 marma (acupressure-like) points on the body. In tantric yoga, 108 energy lines are described throughout the body that all connect at the Heart Chakra.
Caring for Your Mala Necklace
As your mala beads hold energy, it is important to guard them lest their power be diminished. If you are around strangers or out of a calm environment, it is best to shield your necklace under your clothes. When not wearing your mala necklace, store your malas in a clean and sacred space. Typical places to store malas is on a personal altar, draped on a statue of a deity, or in a specially designated bag.
How to Make Your Own Mala Necklace
Ready to make your own Mala necklace? Watch the video below, then read on for a supply list and more instructions.
Here’s what you need:
- 104 beads + 4 marker beads
- 1 guru bead
- Cord or Thread
- 1 tassel
- Towel or a beading board for workstation
- Optional: 1 beading needle
Step 1: Lay out your workstation. If you’d like, this can be a time to set your intentions with the beads. If you aren’t sure what your intentions are, a simple hope that this tool will help you along your spiritual journey is just fine. Arrange your beads in the order you’d like to string them.
Step 2: String one of the rows onto one of the ends of your thread.
Step 3: Then string the other side of the beads onto the other end of the thread to make them symmetrical.
Step 4: Tie two tight knots at each end.
Step 5: Now it is time to add the guru bead up through both threads, then string the tassel on as well. Tie several tight knots around the tassel to secure everything in place and trim the excess.
How to Use Your Mala Necklace in Meditation
- Find a comfortable yet well-aligned position for meditation, such as on the floor or with cushions and pillows.
- Gently close your eyes or keep them open with a soft gaze if you prefer.
- Take slow, deep breaths using your nose and inhaling deep into your diaphragm.
- Hold your mala in your hand and use your thumb and middle finger to “count” each mantra by touching each bead during the recitation of the chant. The guru bead should not be counted or touched by the thumb
- Continue by pulling the beads with your fingers for each mantra until you end at the guru and have completed 108 repetitions.
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