You may have noticed your teacher wearing a necklace-like decoration with a tassel on the end, sometimes around their neck, or wrapped around their wrist. Called a mala (pronounced: mall-ah), why is it yogis wear it and what do they use it for?
Malas, or mala beads, are a meditation device used by Hindus, Buddhists, yogis, and other eastern schools of philosophy – not unlike the prayer beads of the rosary used by some denominations of Christianity. Their purpose is to guide the user through japa (pronounced: jah-puh), the meditative practice of repeating a mantra. The user guides the number of repetitions by repeating their mantra for each bead they pass over.
Hindu and yoga malas typically consist of 108 beads, though the number varies amidst other traditions. 108 is considered an auspicious number for many reasons, though one of our favourite reasons is that 1 represents the path, 0 the cyclical nature of life, and 8 the infinity loop.
Malas are made from a variety of materials, though rudraksha (pronounced: Rud-ruck-sha) beads are popular for yogis because of their significance to Hindus and energetic effects, it is common to find malas made from wooden or stone beads. Many of them are made for the more traditional use of japa mantra, but incorporate meaning and symbolism from other beliefs. For example, it is popular to wear a mala made of a particular stone so that the wearer benefits from the properties of that stone.
Malas will often have a guru bead, typically the largest bead at the bottom above the tassel, which you do not include in your count and do not pass over.
Which mantra should you use to meditate with your mala? You can use any mantra – traditional Sanskrit mantras, repeated silently or aloud for yourself. You can also bring a newer approach that resonates with you, such as practicing a gratitude meditation by listing something you are grateful for with each bead. You could alternate beads to your breath, silently thinking and breathing “inhale/exhale”. You could choose an affirmation before your meditation and think or speak it for each bead, for example, “I am enough”.
There’s also the signifier factor! Just like other traditions – spiritual, religious, even social clubs! – have symbols to signify to others what their values and philosophies are. Wearing a mala is a great way to let people know that you’re someone who wants to live a mindful life!