Japa Mala Beads: What they mean and how to use them (and how to win one of your own!)

Most yogis and anyone who frequents craft fairs and markets on Vancouver Island will be familiar with malas: those long, beautiful necklaces made out of wooden or gemstone beads with either a stone or tassel hanging near the navel. Aside from looking gorgeous on anyone from Salt Spring hippies to New York fashionistas, malas have a much more significant purpose and meaning for the wearer.

What does “mala” mean?
A mala, which means “garland” in Sanskrit, is pronounced mall-laa with a long A—not to be confused with mālā with a short A, which actually means poop (like the malasana yoga pose, or pooping pose, commonly misinterpreted as garland pose). Malas are strands of beads traditionally used to count the number of times a mantra is recited during meditation. They usually consists of 108 beads made out of ‘Bodhi seeds’, which come from the Rudraksha tree in India. In Hinduism, Rudraksha seeds are said to be the crystallized tears of Shiva, who cried tear of compassion for the welfare of mankind.

What’s the significance of 108?
The significance of the 108 beads varies between spiritual beliefs; here are a few of them (I came across almost 50 different meanings):

  • The 108 beads represent the 108 deities in Hinduism
  • There are 108 earthy desires in mortals (Buddhism)
  • If one is able to have only 108 breaths in a day during meditation, enlightenment will come.
  • The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters.
  • According to yogic tradition, there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India.
  • There are said to be 108 lies that humans tell.
  • There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.
  • The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra.
  • And there are also 108 Upanishads and 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body.

Malas can also be made of 27 or 54 beads (you would just double or quadruple time times you chant around the bracelet). Semiprecious stones, sandalwood, shell and rattan seeds can also be used as bead material.

The semiprecious stone, tassel or charm featured on a mala is known as the “guru” stone, which is actually the 109th bead and used to thank and acknowledge our teachers and loved ones, and to acknowledge our connection to the divine.

How do you use your mala?
A mala can be worn and used like an abacus during your chanting meditation (known as a “Japa” meditation in Sanskrit).

To do a japa meditation, start by holding your mala in your right hand (or left hand if you’re left-handed), draped between your middle and index fingers next to the guru stone. Use your thumb to pull each bead towards you, reciting one repetition of your mantra for each bead. When arriving at the guru bead, you can either reverse the direction to come back around or complete your meditation by pausing on the guru stone to acknowledge your teachers, loved ones or yourself.

Featured mala: Japa Mala Beads African turquoise and meranti mala
I received this beautiful African turquoise and meranti mala from Japa Mala Beads to use for meditation and to feature on my blog. I love all or mostly gemstone malas because of their weight and feel in your hand during meditation. Plus they are beautiful to wear!

African turquoise cultivates calming and soothing energies, and it creates tranquility, comfort, and a sense of wholeness and healing. This stone is known to attract prosperity, success, love, healing, courage, and friendship.

Meranti is a hardwood from Southeast Asia and symbolizes development, evolution, adaptation, and growth.

Suggested Mantras for this Mala:
Aham Brahma Asmi
Om Sri Maha Lakshmyai Namah
Om Parama Prema Rupaya Namaha

If you want the chance to WIN this mala of your very own, head over to my Instagram account (@runliftyogi), find the following image and follow the contest rule instructions.

The contest closes December 31st, so don’t wait!

Have you ever used a mala for meditation?
What’s your go-to mantra?