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What is a mala?

You’ve probably seen them worn by yogis. You know that necklace with gemstones or sandalwood beads, with a tassel or a big stone dangling at the end. But what is a mala? Is it just a pretty necklace or some sort of spiritual tool for hippie dippies?

By: Petra Axlund Stegman

So what is a mala? Let start with the actual word "mala". It is a Sanskrit word and it simply means "garland" or "necklace". And the answer to the question what it is, is simply that it can be whatever you want it to be. An earthy BoHo accessory to wear with jeans and t-shirt, a flowly long dress or yoga tights. Or it can be a tool in your meditation practice to give you healing energy and help you to quit your spinning monkey mind (hey, don't we all need help with that). It can also just be something you wear as a constant reminder to yourself to stay present and be mindful in your daily life. It becomes whatever you intend it to be. Just choose a mala that speaks to you and that reflects your personal energy.

Meaning of the number 108
A mala has 108 beads and the number is a sacred number in Hinduism and Buddhism. 108 is a number of the wholeness of existence. It also connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth. And it is said there is 108 energy lines connected to the heart. The Sanskrit alphabet has 54, each has masculine and feminine (Shiva and Shakti) and 54 times 2 is 108. And if you are so calm in meditation that you only have 108 breaths in a day you will become enlightened. So the number has many meanings, but this is what speaks to me personally:

1 – stands for Higher Power, Truth & The Universe
0 – stands for Completeness & Spiritual Practice
8 – stands for Infinity, Eternity & Timelessness

Meditate with a Mala
If you want to meditate with your mala, place it in your right hand and hold it over your middle and index fingers. Start at the guru bead (the big bead, stone or symbol hanging at the end) and use your thumb to count each bead by pulling it toward you as you recite your mantra, prayer or intention. I usually make malas with marker beads at number 7 and 21 (also secret numbers). This is so you know where you are in your meditation and also because I think it makes for a really nice design. When you reach the guru bead you can either stop or just reverse direction and begin anew. The Guru Bead is very important because it will hold all your prayers, and when you wear the mala you’ll have your prayers, intentions, hopes and dreams close to your heart.

Take care of your Mala
When you’re not using or wearing your mala you should keep it in a safe place and treat it with respect. Don’t sleep with it and never try to force your mala over your wrist. I use a strong nylon cord, but if you pull hard or don’t treat it with care it can break. Eventually all malas will need to be re-strung. And just know that if and when your mala breaks it just symbolizes a broken karmic cycle. It’s a sign to bring new intentions into your life as your current ones no longer serve you.

The Guru Bead is the big stone or bead at the end of the mala, bead number 109, is known as the Guru Bead. The Guru Bead is very important because it will hold all your prayers. When you use the mala in your meditation you repeat your mantra or your intention every time you hold a new bead in your hand and when you reach the end they are all held in the Guru Bead.  And when you wear the mala you’ll have your prayers, intentions, hopes and dreams close you your heart.

The Tassel represents enlightenment and the energy created from your meditation. It is a symbol of the thousand petals of Sahasrara (The Crown Chakra) and signifies spiritual illumination. As the strands combine together in to one, it represents our connection to the Divine and to each other. It also symbolizes our prana and consciousness.

The Knots between each bead represents the Universal Force that sustains and supports us. The knot represents the Divine link between all beings.