What are mala beads? Meditation beads, decoded!
If you’ve been to a yoga class or done a basic search on meditation, you’ve probably seen people wearing these long strings of beads as necklaces or bracelets.
That, my friends, is typically a mala.
In this video, we start with the basics. What is this string of beads, why are there so many beads and what is significant about it? There are lots of opinions about the execution of this practice, but my goal is to bring Japa meditation to you from a ‘normal person’ perspective.
What is a mala? It’s a very simple item, but for me, it’s the physical guideline to hold and cherish as it leads us into a place of peace within all the messed up thoughts that can clutter our minds. Using a mala and performing Japa meditation has allowed me to feel a physical connection with meditation whereas when I was first starting out, everything felt just way too abstract.
In the following 4 videos, I will be taking you through the basics of what Japa Meditation is, what kinds of mantras you can use with your mala beads, how to move the beads through your fingers and what you actually need to do this very helpful meditation practice.
Why mantra meditation is powerful:
Meditation is one of the top anxiety reducing practices that is completely free for everyone to use. It is also considered the key to success for many top entrepreneurs and CEOs in this modern, increasingly competitive business environment.
Although there are several ways to practice meditation, mantra meditation is so useful because it makes meditation easier, especially for the beginner. In the beginning, sitting with yourself in silent meditation is incredibly difficult. Our minds are fully trained to be distracted and in a million places at the same time. Therefore, giving the mind a job and having sounds to focus on helps to bring the mind into one-pointedness.
Why is this unwavering focus so important? Because when we relax into full awareness on one activity, in this case, chanting the mantra, we start to relax. When we relax, we trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. This means that we enhance our ‘rest and digest’ bodily functions which are responsible for reducing stress, regulating our digestive system (which can, in turn, help us lose weight!) and quieting the noise in our minds.
This last point of quieting the noise in our minds might sound a little funny if the whole point of this mantra meditation is to speak or think words right? The effects are actually shown after the fact, after your mantra meditation is over. The default mode of the brain, which is observed when you allow your mind to wander on its own, will actually grow quieter as result of a long-term meditation practice.
Finally, you choose the mantra with which you meditate and that means that you can pick one that really means something to you. Therefore, your intention with the mantra and your meditation is sealed in with each practice.
With all these benefits, it’s easy to understand why mantra meditation is so powerful!
We are just starting to peel back the layers to this beautiful practice. What do you think of it? Does it feel like something you will be getting into? Comment below 👇🏻 This is a practice that I absolutely love and practice every single day so I hope it is benefiting you!
Different mantras to try:
You have probably heard of the mantra Om right? It’s a pretty well known sound even outside of the yoga community. This is where mantra meditation starts, but don’t let it be where it ends too!
There are SO MANY mantras out there and as such, there is one for every single person, for every single mindset and for every single occasion. Regardless of whether you are spiritually inclined or you just want to feel the healing nature of sound vibration in your body, you will find a mantra that speaks to you.
This is the longest video of this Japa Meditation series, but it’s also the place where I get my nerd out about mantra. Something that we practice in Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of love and devotion) is storytelling. Therefore, if you get one of us in teaching mode it’s hard to shut us up! I love talking about mantra and making the subject accessible to everyone.
I personally really struggled when I was first looking for meanings and stories behind the mantras. It was hard to find someone who spoke my language and I don’t mean English. My goal with teaching mantra and Bhakti Yoga is to speak just as I am, not as this ‘self-realized, holier than thou’ mega yogi, cuz I’m not.
The mantras that we are going to be working with today have been personal markers in my own practice. I want to reiterate, even though the mantras we’re talking about here are focused around hindu Gods and Goddesses, if that doesn’t sit well with you, try some of the non-denominational mantras that are out there. If you need help finding them, just ask in the comments below.
Mantras covered in this video:
Om: Used for creating connection for all aspects of yourself as well as connection with others. Great for starting a mantra meditation practice.
Om Gum Ganapataye Namaha: Channeling Ganesha, our elephant-headed God. A wonderful chant for new beginnings and starting fresh.
Om Dum Durgaye Namaha: Firing up with the Goddess, Durga. Call out to this powerful energy for confronting difficult times or overcoming adversity.
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare: Draw in the sweet love of Krishna. Tune into your heart of hearts and tap into all the unconditional love of the universe.
Choose a mantra and stick with it for a while. Practice every day and just see what kind of shifts you experience with your inner dialogue and your relationship to others. If you find that you need a different kind of energy, try a different mantra out. When you find one that settles with the frequency of your own energy, you’ll know it.
How to use a mala:
You will hear a lot of different explanations on how to use a mala for your mantra meditation practice. I personally have learned from the Hare Krishna practice so I will be sharing the traditions as far as I know them.
No matter what kind of spiritual practice you relate with (or if you even have one) this way of using your japa beads is very comfortable. It is a good way of feeling connection with the physical beads as well as with the energy emitted from the mantra itself.
My personal recommendation for how to use a mala is to always use the right hand. Place the beads in your hand with the guru bead on the inside of your palm. Drape the mala beads over your middle finger and grab onto the first bead after the guru bead. Allow the tail end of the mala to run between ring finger and pinky as you gently pull the mala towards you after each mantra repetition. One mantra repetition per bead until you go all around the 108 beads and reach the guru bead once again. Here we have a sneaky little trick to flip the mala so that we can continue meditating with a second round if we would like!
This will make more sense when you see it in the video.
I hope this helps you understand how to move the mala through your hand. Learning how to use a mala makes the practice so much easier because you’re not sitting there wondering if you’re doing it wrong or if someone is going to comment on your technique (which by the way, if someone does, there are two possible reasons, A: they are a devotee and just want to help you or B: and this will be the one that you’ll see more in the yoga studio environment, they want to show off).
Where to buy mala beads? What do you need to start a Japa meditation practice?
Now that we know how to use a mala and what kind of mantras we can use for our mantra meditation, what do we do next?
What do we need to start a Japa meditation practice? You DO NOT need anything fancy to develop this personal practice. Just a mala and your voice. That’s it.
You may be wondering about where to buy mala beads. There are tons of people selling malas these days so really you just need to find one that has a significant meaning to you. In the video, I recommend buying one from The Krishna Store because:
1. They are inexpensive so that you can start a mantra meditation practice without breaking your bank and
2. Because they are made from Tusli wood and it is the perfect material for getting yourself connected with the heart of your spiritual practice.
Even though I preach this in the video, I want to reiterate here, I highly recommend that you DO NOT wear your mala beads as jewelry. This is a person by person opinion and you will find arguments for both sides, but I believe that as a practice, you want to respect the tools. We should strive to keep our mala clean and to keep our practice personal.
As such, I also talk about having a bead bag and counter beads, but this is not a requirement for the practice. These items are things that I purchased to take care of my mala and to keep track of my practice so they are completely optional for you.
That’s it, guys! I hope you’ve enjoyed this 5 part series about Japa Meditation.