Most yogis or anyone who has read or watched Eat, Pray, Love will be familiar with malas: those long, beautiful necklaces made out of what appears to be round wooden beads with either a stone or tassel hanging near the navel. Aside from looking gorgeous on anyone from SoCal hippies to New York fashionistas, malas have a much more significant purpose and meaning for the wearer.
A mala, for those of you who aren’t familiar with them, is a strand of beads traditionally used to count the number of times a mantra is recited during meditation. Malas normally consist of 108 beads made out of ‘Bodhi seeds’, which come from the Rudraksha tree. In Hinduism, Rudraksha seeds are said to be the crystallized tears of Shiva, who cried tear of compassion for the welfare of mankind.
The significance of the 108 beads varies between spiritual beliefs — some of the reasons I’ve heard for the 108 number is that each bead represents the 108 deities in Hinduism; that there are 108 earthy desires in mortals; and that if one is able to have only 108 breaths in a day during meditation, enlightenment will come (please don’t try that last one). Whatever it means, you are supposed to use these beads kind of like an abacus during your chanting meditation (known as a Japa in Sanskrit).
Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking part in a mala making workshop as part of a team building activity. Rachel from Shanti Collective was kind enough to come with her collection of semiprecious stones, beads, Rudraksha seeds and plenty of patience to show us how to make our own malas, as well as how to use them.
Each of us were given a bowl with 108 Rudraksha seeds on a string, a baggy full of little clear beads to be used as spacers in between the seeds, fishing line for the string, and several larger clear beads to sit around the semiprecious stone (known as the “guru” stone, which is actually the 109th bead and used to thank our teachers family, mentors, etc. and acknowledge our connection to the divine) that hangs near the navel. She also brought several bowls of smaller semiprecious beads for us to choose from that sit on the strand about 20 beads in, near your heart. Each of the semiprecious beads and stones all had meaning and significance, so I tried to choose things I either want to enhance or inspire to be.
I know, I know — this is getting a little new age-y and hippy-ish, but try to be open minded… this is Run. Lift. YOGA. after all. Plus, it was really fun. And something I felt I really needed to take part in at this moment in time, especially considering some of the personal things I’m going through right now that are completely out of my control. I’d rather make a mala and use it to meditate/deal with things instead of simply medicating my issues away or dealing with them in a disordered way. But I digress.
For my guru stone, I choose amethyst for it’s association to spiritual healing, inner peace and healing, meditation, balance of body, mind and soul, and stress relief — all things I need in my life! The other three stones I choose were lava rock for grounding, protection and making a connection to the earth; howlite for it’s association to creativity, inspiration, artistic expression and calmness; and rose quartz for it’s association to love, passion and healing.
Once we had our stones and beads picked, we painstakingly strung all 108 mala beads and the teeny tiny spacers in between each. Once you got into a rhythm of stringing the beads, making the mala was almost like a meditation in itself.
Since I didn’t take picture of the mala making, it’s hard to describe how we strung the guru stone and added the first few beads — so I can’t REALLY tell you how to make it. Luckily, Rachel is hosting another Mindful Malas workshop this coming Sunday at Sitka in downtown Victoria if you’re interested in learning how to make your own (tickets are available in advance at Sitka for $60). The best part about taking part in a workshop (besides picking your own beads and stones and taking home a beautiful mala afterwards) is that Rachel shows you how to use it at the end. She lead us through a guided meditation using the mantra om shanti shanti shanti, which is an invocation of peace. We chanted together 108 times as we counted each bead between our thumb and side of our index finger, and finished by thanking our teachers and mentors on the guru stone and by setting our intentions for the day with our mala cupped in our hands.
I loved the experience and love my mala, especially for what it represents. If you have a chance to take part in this workshop on Sunday, do it — or contact Rachel if you have a group who may be interested in doing a private workshop.
om shanti shanti shanti
Do you own a mala?
Do you use it for meditation?
What would your mantra be for a Japa meditation?