What are mala beads and do I have to wear them if I want to start Yoga?
No, you don't have to wear them but if you do so perhaps you may want to know why we use them and what how they are used.
“What is a Mala Bead?"
For thousands of years, yogis and spiritual enthusiasts have used Malas during meditation.
Malas first emerged over 3,000 years ago in India in Buddhist and Hindu prayer during ceremonial meditation called Japa. Contemporaries today still use them to focus during meditation, yoga, and affirmations. These are widely found in a range of materials, including wood, metal, and stone.
Mala Beads have been used in Buddhist and Hindu prayer ceremonies and meditation for centuries. They are typically used to aid in counting the number of repetitions of mantras or phrases. Both Hindu and Buddhist prayer beads have, typically, 108 in a string and there is usually a decorative tassel on the end of the strand, sometimes adorned further with embellishments or amulets. They are often compared to the Catholic rosaries, also used widely in religious applications.
The meaning of Mala Beads
The meaning of these is deeply symbolic and spiritual, and can vary for each person and purpose. But using malas in meditation and yoga practice can aid in concentration and mindfulness.
Why does a mala consists of 108 beads, which is seemingly a random number?Several theories exist. Some believe the one represents God, the zero stands for humility, and the eight mirrors the infinity symbol. Others endorse the belief that malas become what is intended by the wearer, and it is these intentions that create energy and synergy. The most common thought is that it was created after the 108 chakras the we humans have! But if I am being honest there is no real answer to the question.
The symbolism of a mala doesn’t stop here, many feel that the tassel also has an underlying meaning related to how many strands come together as one, a deeper message of unity and oneness.
The Guru bead is directly secured to the tassel and, as such, has special significance. The Guru bead pays tribute to the relationship present in the guru and student mentorship. If your strand is crafted traditionally, they will feature overhand knots which make them more durable, stronger, and versatile, as they can be used for Japa meditation practice which uses each bead for further repetitions and chants.
How Can I use My Mala Beads?
If you're wondering how to use mala beads, the most widespread use is for improved focus and controlled breathing during yoga and meditation, or when praying. The best way to use your beads are to first take a few cleansing breaths and try to clear your mind. This is much easier when you are seated comfortably with your eyes closed and back straight. Try to think about your intention, use your mantra or chant, while continuing to visualize your intention. Hold the beads in your right hand, start at the Guru bead, and count, using your thumb to pull each bead to you with each mantra or chant. Take your time and care to hold and handle the meditation beads, turn them individually in your hands and rotate each bead with your thumb and index finger. The knotting makes it easier to go from one bead to the next and helps with the tactile experience as you focus on your thoughts. Remember to breathe deeply, slowly, and relax during your practice.
These beads also make for an effective aid during progressive relaxation practice when you are attempting to clear the mind and form intentions. When you find your way back to the starter bead, you will have completed 108 repetitions, including the Guru bead, and you can reverse your direction if you choose for more mantras and meditation. Whether you pray, chant, or meditate out loud or silently is up to you. Just be cognizant and considerate of others if you are practicing in public forums, group meditations, or yoga classes as everyone else is also trying to also clear their mind and focus.
What's Japa Meditation?!!
Well, its one of my favorite as well as many of your favorite kinds of meditation.
The Sanskrit word Japa can be defined as “to repeat or mutter prayers or mantras.” Over time the use of mala prayer beads spread across continents and cultures and now people from all over the world wear and use malas and practice japa.
The spiritual and meditation traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism all have different customs and rules for performing japa and using mala prayer beads. Even Gurus or teachers in a specific tradition may have different instructions for japa. In general, mala beads are considered sacred tools that should be used and worn with respect and humility.
Traditional rules and customs can become outdated over time or seem impractical when applied to a different culture. As with any spiritual practice, you must discover for yourself what traditional rules resonate with your goals and intentions. Most importantly it is essential to be mindful of what you’re doing and why you are doing or not doing it. To this end, it will be necessary for you to know what the rules of japa are before braking or altering them.
The Traditional Rules of Japa Meditation:
1. Keep your mala beads in a clean place, preferably on your altar or in a mala bag.
2. Before wearing your mala, touch the guru bead on your bowed forehead, ideally at your third eye center.
3. Do not let anyone touch or use your mala.
4. Avoid showing your mala to other people and especially keep the guru bead hidden from view.
5. Remove your mala when defecating, sleeping or having intercourse.
6. Keep your mala beads clean and well maintained. If the beads become chipped, cracked, or broken you should repair or replace the mala.
7. The most favorable time for Japa meditation is Brahmamuhurta, the time of Brahma, at one and a half hours before sunrise. This is when the Sattva Guna (purity or steadiness) is most predominant. The second best time is at sunset, and the third best is noon.
8. Before sitting for Japa take a bath or wash your hands, feet, and face and brush your teeth. Wear clean clothing.
9. Face in the direction of East or North when practicing japa. East and North are considered to be “the abode of Gods” and the most beneficial and potent direction to be positioned while praying or meditating.
10. Have a clean and special seat prepared for your japa meditation. Ideally, sit on a rug and use a meditation cushion.
11. Sit in the same place and at the same time every day to practice japa. Meditate in a room which is calm and quiet, or sit in a temple, meditation center or on the bank of a river.
12. Observe silence and remove all external distractions during japa.
13. Maintain a steady seated meditation pose, such as Padmasana, Siddhasana or Sukhasana. Make sure the pose is comfortable and stable so it will not create distractions.
14, Do not hold your mala necklace below your navel while practicing japa. Hold your mala during japa at the heart center or in front of your third eye.
15. Use the middle finger and the thumb of the right hand to touch and move the beads with the mantra. The use of the index finger is prohibited as it represents the ego mind.
16. Commit to complete a certain minimum number of malas before ending your practice. Keep track of your Japa and try to increase the amount gradually over time.
17. Keep your mala mantra a secret. Repeat your mantra from 108 to 1,080 times daily (one to ten rounds of a full mala). Again, it is said that we have 7/8, or 108, or 1,080 chakras! Major and Minor ones. That is why we use the count.
18. It is best to receive your mantra from your Guru or teacher. If this is not possible, carefully choose a mantra based on your goals and intentions.
19. Pronounce your mantra clearly and distinctly and without any mistakes—even if you are chanting silently. If you make a mistake repeat the mantra.
20. Do not practice Japa hurriedly or carelessly. Do it slowly and mindfully with feeling, focus, and single-minded devotion.
21. Find a tempo that engages your focus. Repeating a mantra too slowly will create boredom and repeating too fast will scatter your focus. When the mind wanders, adjust the tempo to regain focus. You may find it helpful to link the repetition of the Japa with the rhythm of the breath.
22. Experiment with your Japa technique to sustain interest, avoid fatigue, and counteract monotony. You can try alternating between repeating the mantra aloud and repeating it mentally. You can stand up or change your seated pose when you feel sleepy or drowsy.
23. Japa should be practiced with the eyes partially closed and with a soft gaze. This helps unite and merge the body’s prana and creates an electric loop from top to bottom of the body. Fix your gaze between the eyebrows or at the tip of your nose.
24. Contemplate the meaning of the mantra while chanting it. Feel the power of the mantra purifying your heart, destroying desires, removing cravings, and making your mind become steady. The practice of Japa can destroy the six Shadripus (lust/desire, anger, greed, attachment, pride/arrogance, and jealousy).
25. If you sneeze, yawn, cough or release gas during japa, this is considered as an impurity, and you should start over with a new round of japa.
26. After completing your japa practice take a few moments to sit quietly and feel the effects of the meditation. Finish your practice time with a moment of devotion before proceeding with your day and routine tasks. After your seated practice you can continue the current of Japa mentally during other activities.
After reading through the list of traditional japa rules, take note of which rules you’d like to focus on and commit to. Not all of these rules will be applicable or practical to your personal situation and lifestyle, so it is more important to practice mantra meditation on a regular daily basis rather than try to follow every single rule.
5 Sacred Mantras to Jump-Start Your Japa Meditation Practice
Try each of these sacred mantras and pick the one that most resonates with you for your japa meditation practice.
The practice of japa meditation, specifically, uses mantras in this way to still the mind, thereby opening the path to enlightenment for the yogi.
Here are five of the top mantras for you to experiment with as you get started with japa meditation, so you can hopefully find one that resonates with your soul.
Om, also spelled as Aum, is often referred to as the hymn of the universe. It’s probably the most powerful mantra available to us because it contains the most powerful vibration. Yogis believe that when the universe was created, Om was the sound with which everything came into being.
When you chant Om, you can access this powerful vibration and align your awareness with the awareness of all creation.
Om is the perfect mantra with which to begin practicing japa meditation. Start with Om and see where it takes you.
Learn how to pronounce this mantra correctly by listening to the clip below!
So'Hum (or So'ham) translates to “I am that.” It’s another mantra that’s perfect for beginners because you can link it to your breath. On your inhale, imagine the sound, "Om," and on your exhale, imagine the sound, "Hum."
Historically, So'Hum was first mentioned in the Upanishads and comes from the Sanskrit, sa, which means “that” or "he," and aham, which means “I am.”
When we align our breath with this mantra, we become more focused. Try practicing japa meditation with the So Hum mantra for a few weeks and see if it becomes your favorite.
Om Namah Shivaya
Om Namah Shivaya is an iconic mantra because it calls upon Lord Shiva. It is said that when we meditate with this mantra, we can become self-realized, while also accessing deeply spiritual states of being and even supernatural yogic powers.
Om Namah Shivaya is so powerful because it contains first and foremost the mantra, Om, which is the sound vibration of the beginning of creation. Then we have namah, which is the Sanskrit word for "salutations," and Shivaya, which means Lord Shiva, but can also be thought of as Absolute Reality. When we get deeply in touch with the word, shivayah, we understand that we and the Absolute are one and the same.
“Salutations to Lord Shiva” is what we are essentially saying when we chant Om Namah Shivayah. As this mantra contains six syllables, it’s a bit more complex than the previous two we touched upon, but once you get into the rhythm of it, you’ll find it flows quite naturally.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti is another powerful and profound mantra that’s also perfect for beginning meditators. Again, it contains Om, that great hymn of the universe. In fact, some traditions say that Om is the sound of the universe itself.
Shanti is a word in the ancient Pali language that means "peace." The reason we chant it three times is because it represents peace in the three parts of our existence:
When we meditate with the mantra, Om Shanti Shanti Shanti, we invoke a deep state of peace within our being. We’re also wishing the same experience of profound peace for others. This invocation of peace is important for both Buddhist and yogic traditions.
Work with this mantra for 40 days and see how you begin to access states of deep peace on all three levels – peace in your body, peace in your mind and peace when you speak with others.
Once again we have the universal sound vibration of Om. When we place the word guru before or behind Om, we’re invoking a guru and paying our respects to our guru. Guru in Sanskrit comes from the word gu, meaning "darkness," and ru, meaning "remover," as such guru translates as "Darkness remover."
In the Hindu tradition, gurus are said to be avatars, or incarnations of a god. Chanting to a guru is like chanting to a god who just happens to be gracing us with his/her presence on the earthly plane.
You can chant Om Guru, Guru Om or Om Guru Om. Play around with all three and see which one feels more natural.
Here are a few more Japa Mantras that you may like …
Hari Om Tat Sat The seen and unseen are both ones
Sat Nam I am true, /truth is my essence
If you are a novice in the world of meditation, then Sanskrit mantras can be intimidating for you. Since Japa meditation is about repeating a mantra or a phrase, you can always choose affirmations over the traditional Mantra.
Here are some positive affirmations to start your day with:
• I am calm; I am centered; I am in control.
• I will not let my worry control me.
• I am loved and grateful.
• I am worthy of what I do and speak.
• I am valued and loved.
• It's okay if it doesn't go my way.
• I am allowed to put myself first; I am not selfish.
• I am not responsible for your reaction to my boundaries.
• I am safe; I am secure.
• I release all my shame that I am holding on to my body.
• I love my body and what it does for me.
Benefits of practicing Japa meditation
If you struggle to focus while meditating, then mantra meditation or Japa meditation is your friend. Practicing meditation daily in life is the best way to keep track of your mental health and overall wellness.
The key to cure humanity and rise above the superficial toxicity lies in meditation.
Since many struggles to achieve or focus on their chakra, mantra meditation is the key. Like any other meditation, mantra meditation or Japa meditation too comes with a unique bunch of benefits.
In addition to the health benefits, Japa meditation comes with the properties and energy of the Mantra. It also comes with the healing and transformative powers of mala beads.
Regular practice of Japa meditation can lead to so many positive changes like the few listed below-
• It helps in reducing stress, anxiety and calms the mind.
• It Improves the sleep cycle.
• It improves the concentration level.
• It helps indigestion.
• It helps to cultivate positive thoughts and approaches to life.
• It reduces negative energy and vibes from your life.
• It helps to build a better relationship.
• It increases your creativity.
• It increases strength, resilience, and patience level.
Summing it up
Practicing meditation every day can drastically improve our lives. Japa meditation is nothing but the art of manifestation or the act of attracting things that you want in your life. It actually Magic!
Practicing this meditation for at least 10 minutes every day can bring many positive changes in your day-to-day life. We brainwash our minds to think the things that we want are ours. We train ourselves to focus on the positive things and be more kind to ourselves when we are out of balance.
Thus, we can simply say that Japa meditation is the practice of accessing an embodied experience. It is the art of letting go of everything you're not, so you can realize everything you are.
For pictures of more of Berta's malas please go to: