Everything you need to know about how to use and care for your Mala!
I remember when I was first introduced to malas. I had just opened Bare Medicine in a brand spanking new little yoga studio in Denver, and almost all of the teachers there had these beautiful, long strands of beads draped around their necks. At first I thought it was just a fashion statement that had taken off like wild fire, but eventually I came to understand the significance behind this statement piece. Malas are not just a fashion accessory or jewelry, rather they are a sacred, spiritual tool.
What is a Mala?
This description from Gaia is my favorite:
"A mala, meaning garland in Sanskrit, evokes a circular, continuous form. In practice, a mala is the devoted offering of repeated cycles (typically in divisors of 108) of mantra japa or yoga asana. Within a mala, there is always a sense of beginning, continuing and completion. Both inside each individual cycle and in the practice as a whole. This three-form (trimurti) quality allows us to embody, in practice, the rhythmic cycles ever present in the natural universe: creation (srishti), sustaining (sthiti) and destruction (samhara)."
Malas are used as a meditation tool, similar to Prayer Beads, and a mantra is chanted for each bead during meditation practice. The traditional mala has 108 beads and a Guru Bead on the end, that is traditionally completed with a tassel. There is a knot between each bead, and the process of knotting the mala is meditative in itself. There are 108 beads because this is a very auspicious number in Yogic, Ayurvedic, Hindu, and Buddhist philosophies.
The number 108 has a range of significance across many different cultures and disciplines. For example, this number informs the architecture of sacred texts that are central to yoga and eastern philosophy. As a devoted scholar of yoga and tantra, Shiva Rea explains in Tending the Heart Fire, “there are 108 chapters of the Rig Veda, 108 Upanishads and 108 primary Tantras.” And these texts are written in Sanskrit, a language comprising 54 letters, each with a masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) form, 54 x 2 = 108. Listed below are just a few of the many relationships that carry this number.
In in the field of Ayurveda, there are 108 sacred places, or marmas, in the body, identifying intersections of matter and consciousness. When manipulated, these points can awaken and align the vital energy. Members of the Vedic tradition see this number as denoting the wholeness of the universe: one represents the solar masculine, zero represents the lunar feminine and eight represents the infinite nature of all things. In the classic japa mala, used in Buddhism and Hinduism, there are 108 beads used for prayer and mantra.
Mantra is a word or phrase with a powerful meaning, chanted to discipline the mind as an aid to meditation or as an incantation. While a mantra is repeated, it acts as a point of focus to help unify the mind into one focus, after each recitation of the mantra a bead is pulled forward. The more pure of heart the practitioner is while repeating the mantra the deeper the effect and the calmer and more unified they become in their meditation. When saying a mantra the mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions. Just the simple "Om" chant is a prime example of mantra.
It is also said that each of the 108 beads represents a human passion that impedes enlightenment, and the tassel represents a Lotus Blossom which is a traditional symbol for enlightenment. I have also heard that the tassel can symbolize the roots of the Lotus Flower, keeping us rooted in the Gross, physical world and representing the mud from which it grew. The Guru Bead positioned above the tassel is the starting and end point for the meditation practice, and represents the Student- Guru relationship. It is not uncommon to see a lot of Guru Beads depicted as Ascended Masters or Deities such as Buddha, Kuan Yin, and Ganesh. Traditionally, out of respect for the Guru, the practitioner never crosses over this bead; but instead reverses direction after moving through the 108 beads if they wish to continue their practice.
How to Use your Mala
Once you've chosen a mala (or more realistically, once it has chosen you), you will need to cleanse and activate it. Traditionally malas were made from wood and seed, which cannot be charged like crystals and gemstones can, but they do still hold energy. You will want to remove any remaining energy from the person who created it, and everyone else who it may have come into contact with it before you.
There are several ways to remove this energy:
Now that it is cleansed and ready to be used, you will want to activate it with your intention. If you are using a gemstone mala, it is recommended that you choose the appropriate stones that coincide with your intention. Just like Crystal Healing, the stone beads can be charged and activated with your chosen mantra or affirmation. The Crystalline Matrix of gemstones that conducts a Piezoelectricity, is the same conduit that can record and amplify your intent. In order to activate this Piezoelectric charge, all you have to do is apply friction (i.e. rub the stone). Once you have activated the crystalline matrix, you can charge the stones with your mantra.
The more you wear your mala, it will continue to absorb and transmute energy. It is suggested that you cleanse your mala from time to time and recharge it. If your mala breaks, it is believed that it has served it's purpose and that you have achieved the intention behind it.
Ways to Utilize your Mala
Counting the 108 Beads
Traditionally the mala is held in the left hand. Symbolically, this represents bringing forth blessings and virtue. The basic instruction is to use the thumb and second finger to move the bead forward. It is not advised to use the first (pointer) finger, because this finger represents the ego and pointing in ancient Eastern Traditions is considered disrespectful. Therefore, you would never point at your Guru or the Divine if they were in front of you, and so it is with the Guru Bead. This is also the same respectful reason why a practitioner never crosses the Guru Bead, and simply reverses direction when they reach this bead.
Wearing the Mala
As an alternative, you may prefer to wear the mala around your neck (like a necklace) as you meditate. A mala acts as an anchor or physical reminder of our commitment or practice and is known to physiologically trigger you into a deeper mind state the more you practice meditation while wearing it.
A more modern way to wear the mala is to wrap it around the wrist. If this is your chosen method, it is preferred to wear it on the Left wrist for the same reasons above, as well as the belief that this is the more receptive side.
Praying or Chanting with a Mala
Another way to use your mala is to hold the beads in prayer position between your hands in front of your heart while reciting a mantra or prayer.
Caring for your Mala
As a Sacred Tool, you should treat your mala with respect and honor. Do not leave it in the bathroom, on the floor, or any where else that would be considered unclean or disrespectful. It is recommended to store it in a box, chest, or drawstring bag when not in use. I personally prefer to keep mine on my altar when I am not wearing it.
In order to maintain the integrity of your mala and prevent breakage, do not wear it during activity, to bed, or in the shower. If you need to physically clean it for any reason, use a damp cloth and mild soap to gently wipe it clean. Keep your mala out of water, this is especially important for those made of wood or seed.
Gemstones and crystals can break if dropped or exposed to extreme conditions. Keep your mala out of direct sunlight for long periods, and do not leave outside or in cold temperatures.
If you would like more guidance on how to use your mala, what kind of mala is most appropriate for you, or if you need mantra suggestions, Katrina is available for Consultations and Guided Meditations.
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