Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • February 2017
Written by 

Mala beads: More than a fashion statement

During the recent holiday season, if your mailbox looks anything like mine, you may have been inundated with catalogs and emails featuring clothes and jewelry. I love perusing the catalogs and have noticed an abundance of beaded necklaces and bracelets that are patterned after the traditional mala beads used in meditation. They can be beautiful pieces of jewelry and many people will buy these pieces for their color and appearance alone, but there is a deeper meaning to their design. Learning the story behind the jewelry may change how you approach wearing it!

A mala is a strand of beads that is made up of 108 beads plus a “guru” or “meru” bead that hangs perpendicular to the other beads — often a more decorative bead or charm. The word mala is from the Sanskrit language and means “garland.” A mala bracelet, or wrist mala, includes 27 beads, which is one section of the complete mala. These beads were originally used for a specific type of meditation called Japa, which means “to recite.” Practitioners would recite a mantra, prayer or intention for each bead, similar to how prayer beads or a rosary are used in modern Christianity. Many cultures do have prayer beads, or ways for counting repetition of prayers or mantras, and it is believed that they probably all began with the Hindu malas.

Each mala contains the same number of beads, and the number 108 is an auspicious and spiritually significant number. If you start to research the significance of the number, you will find numerous explanations. Here are a number of interesting ones:

  • In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets (12 x 9 = 108)
  • There is said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra (one of the energy centers in the body)
  • It is believed there are 108 Upanishads, texts of wisdom, from ancient sages
  • One stands for God or higher truth, 0 stands for emptiness or humility in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity
  • The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth, and the distance from the sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the sun
  • Some say there are 108 feelings: 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present and 36 related to the future
  • The powers of 1, 2 and 3 in math: 1 to the 1st power = 1, 2 to the 2nd power = 4 (2 x 2) and 3 to the 3rd power = 27 (3 x 3 x 3) — the product of multiplying those three numbers (1 x 4 x 27) equals 108

In meditation or prayer the beads help to keep one focused and brings awareness to the practice through the tactile reminder of the beads moving through the fingers. With our distracted and often overloaded minds, it’s easy to lose track! How do you select a mantra or chant to use with the mala beads? If you were working with a yoga guru or teacher, they may give you a mantra to use. But most people don’t have a guru, they just know what they are looking to bring into their lives. You are open to picking a phrase or word that may be beneficial to you. Affirmations such as “I am wise,” “I am strong,” “I am well” or “I am powerful” are more common to a modern practice.

Mala beads can be made of many materials, which have various meanings. Common materials traditionally used include rosewood, which is used for work to remove obstacles, and Rudraksha seeds, which are said to increase clarity, calm the nervous system, and free one from negative thoughts.

Gemstones are popularly featured, AND They also have associated properties and meanings:

  • Rose quartz is believed to open the heart, enhance creativity and heal emotional wounds.
  • Onyx is associated with resistance and power, helping the wearer manage and complete tasks with focus, willpower and confidence.
  • Amethyst is believed to provide one with stability, strength, inspiration and enhance the immune system.
  • Garnet promotes vigor and vitality, calms anger and increases willpower.
  • Pearls symbolize purity, and stimulate the mind in clarity and wisdom.

Is it inappropriate to wear a mala if you don’t practice yoga or meditation? You may receive various answers depending upon whom you ask. But each of us has intentions or desires, ways in which we want to make our days more purposeful or meaningful. A strand of mala beads may be just the thing we need to bring that intention to life!

Kathy Davis

Kathy Davis, RYT-500, is the co-owner of Yoga Elements, which is opening in March at the corner of Oneida Street and Midway Road in Menasha. The studio features classes in Vinyasa, Alignment, and Therapeutic Yoga.

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