What is a mala?
A mala, which is Sanskrit for garland, is a string of beads—typically 108, in addition to one guru bead—which are used as a meditation tool while chanting, reciting or silently repeating a mantra. Malas help the wearer focus their mind and are often used to recite mantras in sets of 108 repetitions. Malas are made from various types of materials, including gemstones, wood, seeds or crystals. When not used for specifically meditation, malas can help wearers carry a sense of peace, calm, mindfulness and focus with them throughout the day.
What is a mantra?
A mantra—Sanskrit for sound, syllable, word or group of words—is a personal “motto” of sorts that is repeated during meditation to help create focus and self-transformation. When repeating a personal mantra, the meditator can calm the mind to allow deeper levels of relaxation and awareness.
What is the significance of the 108 beads? What is the significance of the numbers 3 and 6?
Malas allow the wearer to keep count of mantra recitation, allowing her to stay focused, calm and relaxed while repeating a mantra 108 times. In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, mala beads are often created using 108 beads, as a 108-bead mantra repetition represents the 108 worldly sins in the Buddhist doctrine. In addition, the number 108 is considered to be sacred in many Eastern religions, representing the universe as one thing (1), nothing (0) and everything (8, or infinity). The numbers 9 and 12 also have spiritual significance in many Eastern religions, with 9 times 12 equaling 108. In addition, the numbers 3 and 6 are significant in relation to mala beads, with Buddhist malas coming in three forms: 108, 54 and 27 beads. On a traditional Buddhist mala, the three beads above the guru bead represent the Three Refuges: Homage to the Buddha, Homage to the Dharma and Homage to the Sangha. Traditional 108-bead malas are divided into six groups of 18 beads, with a divider between each bead, while 54-bead malas have six groups of nine beads. Each dividing bead represents a point of pause for silent meditation.
What is the significance of the gemstones? Why do they all have healing properties?
Malas are made using a wide variety of materials, many of which are gemstones. Gemstones have been used for centuries for healing and to reflect energy from the earth. Each gemstone also has a particular meaning and healing properties, and wearers can choose their mala beads based on what they’re seeking from their meditation. Amethyst, for example, promotes spirituality and helps the wearer stay centered, spiritual and serene. Tiger’s Eye, on the other hand, promotes courage and helps the wearer stay powerful, grounded and mindful.
What is the significance of the tassel or Om charm?
Mala and Mantra mala bead necklaces each contain tassels, while some mala bead bracelets include an Om charm. In traditional Buddhist culture, tassels are symbolic of lotus blossoms, which represent and promote enlightenment. Om charms are representative of a common mantra used in meditation and prayer, and are said to bring luck, harmony and peace to the wearer.
How do you use a mala for meditation?
Start by holding your mala beads in your left hand, resting the beads between your index finger and thumb. Begin reciting your chosen mantra, counting each repetition by moving to the next bead. When you complete one set of mantra repetition—108 for mala bead necklaces; 27 for mala bead bracelets—and reach the guru bead, flip the mala around 180 degrees, then continue in the same direction.
Debbie Krejci E-RYT
Yoga Teacher Training Mexico, Costa Rica, Sri Lanka
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