Lately I feel like I see malas every where. The other day I commented to a friend that “I liked her mala”, she replied, “what is a mala?”.
When I explained to her that she was wearing one as a necklace it occurred to me that people might not understand what a mala is or even what you might use one for.
Mala is a Sanskrit word that translates to “garland”. But it is generally a strand of 108 beads arranged around a larger or more decorative bead that we call the “guru” bead.
The number 108 is significant in Hinduism and Buddhism however it is also a significant number across many different cultures and disciplines. In Ayurveda, there are 108 sacred places, or marma points, in the body. In the Vedic tradition this number signifies the wholeness of the universe. The number one representing the solar masculine, zero representing the lunar or feminine energy and eight represents infinity of all things in nature.
There is also significance in regards to mathematics and astronomy. The number 108 has countless patterns and potential divisions, making it a semi-perfect number. The diameter of the sun is approximately 108 times that of earth and the distance from our planet to its solar star is, on average, 108 times the diameter of the sun.
A similar parallel relationship exists between the earth and the moon. Traditionally, practicing 108 Sun Salutations is reserved for the change of the seasons such as the Winter and Summer Solstice.
But it’s a necklace right?
Yes! And no. No in that it is not just a necklace. They can dress up a tee shirt and jeans, wrap it around the wrist or let it be a focal point of a dressier ensemble. These beautiful strands of beads or stones often hold special significance for the owner based on where they got it or why they chose the stones and their connection to that energy. I have several malas that were gifted to me at the graduation of a Yoga teacher training and some given as a gift for a certain celebration. I have kept them all because when I use them or wear them now it is like a remembrance of the importance of that moment.
Fashion or décor, sentimental or emotional, a mala is used for meditation.
Like the beads of a rosary or other prayer beads, the 108 beads of the mala are used to meditate on a mantra, which is just a phrase, word or sound that can help you cultivate the attention to meditate. Using your right hand, start with your thumb and middle finger holding the first bead above the guru bead. The index finger does not touch the mala as it is considered to be connected to the ego and thus bad energy. Using each bead to silently meditate your mantra until you return to the guru bead.
I have been using a Green Tara mala of late. I use it for my meditation and then wear it after. The weight of it is a grounding reminder to me to be present and provides a calming energy to my day. If I find myself getting anxious or feeling overwhelmed I might unconsciously reach up and begin rubbing a bead between my thumb and middle finger. This is my mediation practice spilling over into my life and providing a place holder, a foundation of stillness and equanimity.
If you are considering a meditation practice (and that is a great idea if you are not already), finding a mala you connect with is a great first step.
You can check out some beautiful designs here and peruse the meanings behind the various beads and stones used to create each handmade piece.