Mala means “garland” in Sanskrit and, like a rosary, a mala is used to enhance spiritual practices. Perhaps you’ve seen them — these garlands consist of 108 beads, each individually knotted in place, with an extra bead hanging outside the circle, bringing the total number to 109. The 109th bead on a mala is called the Sumeru or Guru bead and is often topped by a tassel of silk. When worn, the tassel rests on the right or behind the neck in deference to the Guru (teacher).
Repeating a mantra using mala beads as counters is known as “Japa.” Counting begins with the bead next to the Guru bead. In the Hindu tradition, if more than one mala of repetitions is to be done, you change directions when reaching the Guru bead, rather than crossing it. Traditionally, you hold the mala in the right hand, draped over the middle finger, using the thumb to flick one bead to the next. You never use the index finger to count because it represents the ego.
Combining sense of touch and conscious awareness, simply pausing on a bead becomes an act of meditation, bringing you back to your center. Many believe that the regular use of a mala causes it to take on the energy of the chanted mantra, so it’s common to chant only one particular mantra with a particular mala.
Whether you’re performing Japa or simply wearing a mala around your neck, the beads have specific properties, which affect the mind and energy of the wearer. Beads made from sandalwood or Rudraksha seeds will tame opposing forces and create a shield of peace. Malas made of precious metals like gold or silver will bring material wealth and increase knowledge, especially if lotus seeds are part of the design.
Choosing the mala that’s right for you will depend on what energy you want to bring into your life. Crystal malas are especially potent in their effect on a meditator.
For instance, if you need help making decisions regarding your career, wear carnelian. Carnelian is red-orange in color and is a power stone. It helps with focusing, realization, and self-actualization. It reminds the meditator to be ‘in the moment.’
Amethyst is a stone of the mind. It brings calmness and clarity. If you want to get in touch with your intuition and feelings, wear purple amethyst. Amethyst helps in all things spiritual, mystic, and psychic.
Blood-red garnet is the stone of passionate devotion to family, friends, yourself, and your purpose. Garnet stimulates the senses and increases vitality. It helps with motivation, productive action, and best of all, attracts good luck in business ventures.
Topaz, a golden-yellow crystal, promotes creativity and the expression of ideas. Topaz is particularly powerful when combined with amethyst. As the topaz activates the laws of attraction and manifestation, amethyst transforms the energies into spiritual vibrations.
If you want to attract money, go with light-yellow citrine. Citrine brings happiness, joy, and optimism into your life. It promotes material comfort. As a bonus, it’s one of only a few minerals on the planet that doesn’t hold or accumulate negative energy, but instead dispels and transforms it.
Before you wear your mala or use it for Japa, be sure to ‘cleanse’ it of negative energy. (Unless it’s citrine, which you don’t ever have to cleanse, since it doesn’t hold any negativity.) Most crystals can be cleansed by placing them in a bowl of spring water and sea salt for seven hours, in direct sunlight. Some marbles, pearl, and wooden beads can be damaged by salt, so cleanse them by smudging with sage or sandalwood incense for three to seven minutes. Either method will dispel any negative energy.
Spirituality is an ever-evolving state, so when you’re choosing a mala, just ask yourself: What do I want to attract in my life? Then follow your inner voice and higher intuition.
Sanora Bartels is an independent teacher of Vedic Meditation working with individuals to sustain balance and achieve success in all areas of life. Her training included a year of study that took her from Los Angeles, California to Rishikesh, India to Flagstaff, Arizona.