Meditating with your mala
While malas look beautiful one of their most common uses is as a meditation aid.
Meditating with your mala helps you focus more easily by creating a repetitive movement that generates a focal point to direct your wandering mind towards. For folk like me that suffer from ‘monkey minds’ this type of practice can often help deepen our meditation experience and help us feel more grounded.
Before I share how to meditate with your mala it is useful to understand the components that make up a traditional mala.
What makes up a mala?
Malas usually have 108 beads or a derivative of the number, excluding the counters, spacers and guru bead. It is considered by many to be a sacred and powerful number, but opinions differ on the reason for why it is so special. For some 108 symbolises the 108 impurities and flaws that one must overcome, while others link the 108 beads to the 108 lines of energy believed to flow from your heart chakra to the universe.
Malas also have a 109th bead which is larger and called the guru, bindu, sumeru or stupa beads. The guru bead symbolises gratitude for everyone who has guided us on our spiritual path and our connection with the divine. It also acts as a marker to tell you when you have completed one round of meditation on your mala.
Some malas have spacer beads. These are beads that are usually significantly smaller or larger than the rest of the beads. When you encounter a spacer bead it is a cue to check in with yourself, and if necessary, to bring your mind gently back to your meditation if it has drifted.
Traditional malas are finished off with a tassel. For many the tassel symbolises our connection to the divine and for others they symbolise the student-teacher relationship between us and the Universe. For followers of the Buddhist tradition the tassel represents the lotus plant, reminding us of the analogy that without mud there is no lotus.
How to meditate with your mala
Different traditions have different approaches, rules and customs they apply to meditating with a mala. Take time to explore what works for you and what you feel most comfortable doing. What is most important is that the approach resonates with you and you feel connected and at ease with your practice.
The instructions below are intended as a guide to get you started. Fine-tune them to suit your style as you become more familiar with meditating with your mala.
- Find a quiet space where you will not be interrupted. Sit comfortably in your preferred meditation pose, with your mala in your dominant hand. Your eyes can be open or closed, depending on your preference.
- Decide how many times you would like to loop around your mala – some days it might be once, other days you might like to do more, especially as you get used to the practice.
- When you are ready, you might like to begin by touching the guru bead to your third eye (between your eyebrows) and set an intention for your practice.
- Still holding onto the mala beads let them drop down gently. Take a moment here to reconnect with your mala. Pause for a depth breath and feel the union between you and your beads.
- Move the tassel so it is facing you and the place the first bead nearest the tassel so it sits between your middle finger and thumb as shown in the picture below (it doesn’t matter which side you start). Avoid using your index finger during your practice as this finger is seen to represent the ego mind. Extending it out helps to avoid it accidently switching places with your middle finger.
- Using the middle finger and your thumb start to move through the beads, lightly pulling them towards you to progress. Some people like to link their movements with their breath, for example inhale as you connect with the first bead, exhale and move to the next bead, repeat all the way around. Others like to repeat a mantra for every bead. You can read more about mantra’s here. As you get more advanced you might like to combine both of these approaches.
- Find a tempo that works – just remember it isn’t a race but don’t go too slow as this can make focusing harder.
- If your mala has spacers included, use these as a reminder to check in and bring back your focus to your meditation if needed. Don’t worry if you have gone on autopilot or drifted off – we all been there (in my case frequently!)
- Once you find you are back to the last bead before the guru bead you know you have completed a round. Avoid touching the guru bead with your thumb – it is not included in the counting/round but is simply a marker.
- If you would like to go around your mala for another round don’t pass over the guru bead, simply reverse direction and begin again.
- Once you have completed your round(s) take a few moments to simply ‘be’ and enjoy feeling the effects of the meditation throughout your mind and body.
Using new malas for the first time
When you first receive your mala I recommend that you cleanse and activate it.
You can run your mala through the smoke of a smudge or Palo Santo stick to cleanse it. Once it is cleansed, hold your mala in your hands, against your heart or on your third eye. Picture the energy that you would like to infuse it with flowing from you, into your mala, and set an intention you would like to pair with your mala.
You don’t have to be seated to meditate with your mala; you can do the same practice walking. It is particularly beautiful to do a meditation with your mala walking along a long beach or in the bush where you can also be surrounded by nature’s beauty and its sounds.
To protect your mala it is advisable to never let your mala beads touch the ground, unless it is part of a sacred ritual, as it is said to deplete the energy from the mala.
It is also preferable not to let other people touch your mala because this can pass negative energy into the beads. If people do touch them, simply cleanse your mala using the technique outlined above.
When you are not wearing or meditating with your mala it is best to keep it in a clean, safe place. All of Seeds of Wonder’s malas come with a pouch that you can use to keep them out of harm’s way.
Over time, the more you meditate with your mala the more positive energy it is said to store, creating a special spiritual cocoon for the wearer. Eventually just picking up your mala will have the power to bring you a sense of calm and help ground you.
More information on malas
If you are interested to delve a little deeper into the beautiful world of malas head over to our blog ‘Malas – for deeper meditation and mindfulness’ here.