How I use a mala to meditate
I've been meditating for a few years now. There are many forms of meditation from walking a labyrinth to sitting in silence. The type of meditation I'm talking about here is using a set of mala beads to count a mantra for meditation.
What is a mantra? It is a word or sound or phrase that is repeated to help you focus during meditation. It can be a traditional sanskrit mantra hundreds of years old or a simple affirmation you choose of your own. More on that below.
What are mala beads? Traditionally mala beads were 108 beads (often made of wood or seeds) and a larger meru or guru bead. Today many malas are made of stones, such as the ones that I make. There are many reasons why 108 are used. One of the coolest explanations I really like is that the average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters. There are also malas with fewer beads such as the 27 bead pocket malas I make, which are 1/4 the full set.
I started via a FB post for a 7 day challenge and it's grown from there. I decided to make my own mala. Then I made one for a friend. Then I made more and started selling them. I LOVE the creative process of choosing the stones, the knotting and connecting. I have realized though, not everyone who looks at them on my Instagram or on my table at a fair knows what to do with them. So here's a quick run down of how I use my mala and how you could use one for yourself.
- I think a good place to start is to decide what your intention is for meditating. One of the definitions listed on Merriam Webster is "what one intends to do or bring about". What do you hope to bring about by meditating? Typically my intention for meditation is to bring peace to myself. Your intention might be to feel less anxious, to feel self love, or to focus on the present moment.
- Next you'll need to choose a mantra or an affirmation. The mala is going to help you count how many times you have repeated the mantra. The ancient Sanskrit mantras can be very powerful and bring with them centuries of repetition. That's a lot of shared energy and power! While some have connections to Hindu or Buddhist deities, there are many which do not. Some examples include:
- Om (aum). Thought to be the first sound of the creation of the Universe.
- Om shanti shanti shanti. This is an invocation of peace. Shanti is repeated 3 times to represent body, speech, and mind.
- Sat Nam. You make Saaaaaat take 8 times longer to say than Nam. This translates to Truth is my name.
- So Hum (Ham Sa). I am one with the universe/cosmos. This can be tied to the breath, where you inhale on So and exhale on Hum. It's also thought to balance the masculine and feminine.
These are just some examples and a google search can bring you many more. You can also use an affirmation such as "I am peace" or "I am safe". When repeating your mantra you may find your mind wanders away, and that's ok! Use the mantra to refocus and come back to your practice. I find I can focus better when chanting out loud compared to saying it quietly to myself. Connecting your mantra to your breath can also make it easier to stay focused and in the moment.
- So how are we going to count these mantra repetitions? Traditionally you repeat in sets of 108. I have full malas with 108 beads and a guru bead (that's the large bead at the start/finish) and some have markers as well so you can tell where you're at mid way. Since many people look at me like "Oh I don't have time to do that many!" I have made smaller 27 bead pocket malas. These are 1/4 the length of a full mala. You can start small and work up to doing 4 rounds, to make a full round of 108. All my malas are created with gemstones. Different stones are thought to have different meanings or qualities associated. I add some insight on the stones on each listing. You can base your choice on matching the mala to your intention or the color you're drawn to. You can always discuss with me what you're looking for and order a custom mala for yourself. I can also tap into my intuition and create a custom mala based on the stones I'm called to use for you. I use either 6mm or 8mm beads with larger beads for the guru and either larger or different color or different shape beads for markers.
- Ok, mantra chosen and mala in hand. Now what? Hold the mala in your right hand with thumb and middle finger holding the bead just ahead of the guru (big bead). You don't want to touch the mala with your thumb or index finger, and you don't want to touch or cross over the guru bead (it's not counted either). Chant your mantra or say it to yourself and then slide the next bead toward you after each repetition until you reach the guru again. If you have a 27 bead mala, turn the mala at the guru bead and work your way back (don't cross over the guru for four rounds. You can experiment with singing, chanting out loud, or repeating to yourself. They have different results for me depending on the day as well. My favorite way lately is to inhale, then sing/chant my mantra as I exhale. I like to make it loud enough that I feel the vibration in my chest. You can rest your left hand on your left knee, touching middle finger to thumb if you wish. You can choose to sit or stand, whatever is comfortable for you. Traditionally you would sit in the Lotus (cross legged) position, but that isn't accessible to everyone.
The thought, or tradition, is that if you use your mala every day for 40 days, you have infused the mala beads with the energy of that mantra and your intention. You can then wear the mala or carry it with you, thus carrying the energy with you as well.
You want to care for your mala as a sacred item. When not in use it should have a special place that it is kept. As silk will stretch and can break, take care not to over wrap it if you're wrapping it on your wrist. The 27 bead malas are intended to be carried in your pocket and won't necessarily fit on your wrist.
I would love to hear your questions or experiences with meditating with a mala!