What is a Mala?

Students often confide in me how challenging it is for them to master their mind.  


One of the yogic practices recommended for controlling your mind is Japa Mala: mental repetition of a mantra while using a Mala.   


A significant number of people nowadays wear mala around their neck as fashion jewellery, but actually, a mala is a tool for meditation.  


Religions such as Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, use beads to keep count of mantra repetitions during meditation and so does Muslims and Catholics, and they all have a common goal of controlling and focusing the mind and ultimately achieving a higher level of consciousness.


The practice of Japa using a mala helps us to achieve clarity of the mind. It is especially recommended for people having difficulties to concentrate during meditation, using mala as support for focusing the mind.


A mala is a sacred object, and you should be reverent to yours and avoid placing it on the floor or your yoga mat,  as I see many students do so in my class.


The beads of the malas are made traditionally from Rudraksha seeds.   The word Rudraksha comes from Rudra – Shiva and aksha – teardrops.


The creation of the Rudraksha tree according to an ancient text comes from the tears shed by Rudra ( Shiva) while he was in the profound meditation after witnessing the immoral behaviour of the demon Tarakasur’s sons.   As a result, some of the tears fell upon the earth, and the rudraksha tree grew from the tears.


Traditionally the number of Rudraksha beads strung together is 108 plus one (109),  called Meru, or guru bead. The guru bead helps us to keep count. There is also a tassel below the guru bead. It could be taken just as an ornament, but for some, it represents the fourth state called Turiya, the transcendental state beyond three states:  waking, dream and deep sleep.


When one bead breaks in your mala, it means you have “burned” some karma, and it is preferable not to restring your mala.


Meditation practice with mala is not complicated. First, you need to set an intention for your practice and choose a mantra or an affirmation to recite.


How to use your mala:


  • Hold your mala in your right hand above the waist level.
  • Place the mala between your middle and ring fingers.
  • Starting at the guru bead, use your thumb to count each smaller bead, pulling it toward you  (clockwork direction) as you recite your mantra.
  • Repeat this 108 times, one bead at the time, until you once again reach the guru bead. You cannot cross the guru bead when counting the mantras during meditation. When you reach the guru bead, the mala is turned around so that the next round of counting begins with the 108th bead.


Meaning of 108:


Sun and Earth: The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun.


Moon and Earth: The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.


Silver and the moon: In astrology, the metal silver is said to represent the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108


I strongly recommend this practice to all those who have an unruly mind.   There are many benefits to practicing Mala Japa. I especially enjoy practicing Japa Mala before meditating as I find this practice calming and it helps me to be more focus and heightened my self-awareness.