For thousands of years, meditation malas (prayer beads) have been used across cultures and continents to alleviate worry, stress and anxiety. They are beautiful, practical items that can be used by anyone seeking to relax the body and heal the mind. Because of the deeply personal nature of meditation, malas are found in a variety of materials, lengths, colors and gemstones to convey individual identity and significance for the mala owner.
Using a meditation mala requires no prior knowledge of traditions, prayers or rituals. All you need is a clear place to sit and about 10-15 minutes of uninterrupted time. Start with the mala in your left hand, with index finger and thumb lightly grasping the bead next to the Guru Bead (the larger bead at the top of the chain). Breathe deeply several times until you feel relaxed. Then, begin.
Move the beads through your fingertips, one-by-one, breathing deeply and slowly with each movement. This smooth sequence transmits information from the muscles to the brain, and relaxes the central nervous system by initiating a steady, repetitive physical motion (similar to the idea of squeezing a stress ball).
With each new bead you should be repeating a chosen mantra, prayer or intention. The mantra can be anything- some practitioners use “Om,” while others choose “peace” or “love”- and it can be spoken, whispered or hummed. Each repetition generates positive forward momentum and strengthens mental focus. If a stray thought distracts you, return to the bead where you lost concentration and start again. Meditation is not a race; there is no finish line. Meditation is a process of slow healing, of bringing a sense of infinite peace to the heart and mind.
Keep the beads moving. When you reach the Guru Bead again, you will have completed a full cycle. Come out of meditation gently by sitting in silence for some moments. Take deep breaths, stand and return to your normal activities. Remember, it takes time and practice for the mind to be able to effectively slow down and focus. Do not be discouraged if you don’t feel “perfect” the first time you meditate.
How Many Beads in a Mala?
Are there 21? 24? 27? 54? 108? The answer is… all of the above. In meditation there are no right or wrong answers for any concepts, including the correct number of beads in your meditation mala (or rosary). The idea is to focus on your actual practice (concentrated thought, release of emotional attachment) instead of worrying if you have obtained the proper meditation equipment.
You will probably notice, however, that the most common bead count tends to be 108. This is because in several cultures, the number 108 is believed to hold spiritual or universal significance. Therefore, a count of 108 beads means one “official” completion of a meditation cycle- although you can reach this marker just as easily with a mala of 54 beads (repeat twice) or 27 beads (repeat 4 times). You can also find smaller malas in lengths of 21, 22 or 24 beads, just showing that it doesn’t matter how many cycles you make- it matters only how mindful you are while you make them.
Some gemstones used to make meditation malas are associated with specific healing properties:
- Amethyst promotes clarity of thought.
- Carnelian improves self-awareness and self-confidence.
- Citrine stimulates the mind and is a symbol of happiness and wisdom.
- Garnet symbolizes compassion, courage and faith.
- Jade instills inner peace.
- Kyanite dispels anger and frustration.
- Labradorite evokes personal faith and self-reliance.
- Lapis lazuli promotes harmonious relationships.
- Moonstone soothes and calibrates emotions.
- Mother of Pearl signifies faith, charity and innocence.
- Onyx improves concentration and alleviates absentmindedness.
- Turquoise improves memory and understanding.
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Care and Storage
Meditation malas should be kept in a small bag or storage box when not in use. While they are undeniably beautiful, many meditation malas are made of delicate materials and do not fare well when left to be damaged in open environments.
Many people enjoy wearing their meditation malas throughout the day. This is perfectly appropriate, and many stretchy cord malas and wrist-size malas are specifically designed for this purpose. However, please remember that the majority of necklace-length malas are very carefully beaded and should not be wrapped too tightly around the wrist, as this may cause the string or cord to break over time. Most malas are not waterproof and should not be exposed to extreme sunlight or temperatures, as this may fade color.