How to Use a Mala:
Mala beads have increasingly gained attention in Western societies, but they are ancient tools that have been used for thousands of years in various spiritual and religious practices. Malas have permeated into different faiths and secular mindfulness techniques. In this blog post, we will explore a common way malas are used, drawing from Hatha Yoga traditions.
What Is a Mala?
A mala is a string of beads used for prayer, meditation, or affirmation practices known as japa. Traditionally, a mala has 108 beads and one “guru” bead, which is larger and not counted in the meditation. The guru bead serves as the starting and ending point of each round of japa.
How to Use a Mala
Choose Your Intention or Mantra
Before you begin, it’s essential to choose an intention or a mantra. Your intention could be a personal goal or aspiration, while a mantra could be a sound, word, or phrase with spiritual significance.
Find a Quiet Space
Find a peaceful and quiet space where you can sit comfortably with your spine straight. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to center yourself.
Using Your Mala
Hold the mala in your hand between your thumb and middle finger, letting it drape over your middle finger. Start at the bead next to the guru bead. The right hand is traditional, but use whichever hand feels best to you.
As you breathe in, silently or audibly recite your mantra or focus on your intention. Roll the bead between your thumb and middle finger as you complete each recitation.
Move to the next bead, rolling it between your thumb and middle finger as you complete another cycle of your mantra or focus on your intention. Continue this process until you reach the guru bead.
Reflect and Restart
When you reach the guru bead, take a moment to reflect. If you wish to continue your meditation, reverse the direction of the beads and start another round.
To continue past the first rotation:
- Do not pass the guru bead: In traditional practice, you never pass over the guru bead. It serves as the grounding bead, symbolizing the teacher-student relationship, the ending, and the beginning of the cycle.
- Turn the mala: Hold the guru bead between your thumb and middle finger. Carefully flip the entire mala so that what was the last bead you counted becomes the first bead for your new round.
- Resume your japa: Start moving in the opposite direction, bead by bead, as you did before, continuing your mantra or reflections.
Why Reverse the Direction?
Reversing the direction is a symbolic act. It marks the completion of one full cycle of your mantra or intention and the beginning of a new cycle. Additionally, it honors the guru bead and what it represents—your teachers, your spiritual path, and the continual cycle of learning and growing.
So, whether you’re steeped in a specific tradition or simply exploring mindfulness techniques, the practice of using a mala can offer a tactile and concentrated method for deepening your spiritual practice.