Meditation

The Benefits and Uses of Mala Beads

Drawing good energy from the universe
Cropped shot of an unrecognizable woman sitting with her palms together while meditating indoors

Malas are growing in popularity and can be a great complement to your meditation practice. Learn about the benefits of using a mala and unique ways to use one.

You can find mala necklaces and bracelets for sale at many yoga studios, online through specialty retailers like Silver and Sage and Tiny Devotions, and handmade, one-of-a-kind creations by local artists on Etsy.

Malas are often used as decorations, jewelry, or during seated meditation. These beautiful necklaces often hold special significance for the wearer based on where they got it, why they chose the stones, and the energy resonance they feel with the beads.

Traditionally a mala—which means “garland”—has 108 beads strung together and one “guru bead,” which is larger than the rest. The guru bead is used as a place marker for the fingers to feel for the end or the beginning of the necklace for meditation or mantra chanting. Sometimes there are special or different shaped beads placed after every 27th bead to make it easier to keep track of the mantra. You’ll often also find bracelets and decorative necklaces with 54 or 27 beads, half and a quarter of the 108 respectively. Nowadays, malas are made out of a variety of materials including wood, seeds, stones, pearls, and crystals.

Benefits of Using Mala Beads

A common way to use the mala is to track a “japa,” or mantra meditation. The repetitive recitation of a single sound, such as “om,” a few words, such as “om mani padme hum,” or a longer mantra, such as the Gayatri Mantra, can be calming and transformative. Whether you’re chanting out loud, whispering, or repeating a phrase silently, tracing the beads of the mala with your fingers can help you keep track of the japa. “Japa” translates to “muttering” in Sanskrit.

Similar to praying with rosary beads, meditating with a japa mala has been shown to help slow respiration and encourage well-being. Repeating your mantra redirects the mind from daily obsessions and introduces positive thought patterns. Similar devices have been used for generations in a variety of spiritual traditions including:

  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Jainism
  • Sikhism
  • Christianity
  • Islam

Meditation positively affects the brain and mood and practitioners report feeling relaxed, having better focused attention, and enhanced self-awareness. Consider the pose Malasana, commonly cued as “Yogi Squat.” The yogi squats and brings the hands to the heart, representing a single bead on the mala necklace, the yogi is small, individual, and unique. Just like each of the beads that are intimately connected to all the others through the string of the mala, the yogi is intimately connected to all other beings. This is the reminder of this pose: though individually we are special, together we are stronger.

Malas can be a significant part of your meditation practice. Here are some unique ways to use a mala:

Gift a Mala

Purchase (or make) a mala and give it to a loved one to commemorate a special occasion like:

  • Completing a degree
  • Finishing yoga teacher training
  • Birthday
  • Anniversary
  • “Just Because” special treat

Honor Yourself

Set your mala at the top of your yoga mat as an ode to your intentions as you practice yoga asana. You can also wear your mala necklace to honor whatever it means for you, like an:

Celebrate Creativity and Community

Make your own mala:

  • Choose a special stone or color.
  • Gather a group of friends and string the beads in community.
  • Let the creative process be its own mindful experience.
  • Bless your mala with an intention or wish.

Enhance Your Pranayama Practice

Bring more intention and concentration to your pranayama practice by using the beads as cues for breathing:

  • Find a comfortable seat.
  • Hold the mala in one hand and let it dangle easily.
  • Touch the guru bead with your opposite hand.
  • As you move your fingers to the next bead, breathe in and breathe out.
  • Each bead gets its own inhale and exhale.
  • Continue until you feel the guru bead again.

Practice Japa Mantra Meditation

Try practicing a japa mantra meditation, setting an intention and allowing the beads to be a grounding element as you follow them while reciting your words:

  • Find a comfortable seat.
  • Choose a mantra that speaks to you. Some examples to get you started: om, so hum, om shanti shanti shanti, om namoh guru dev namoh, I am enough, I love being me, I am in the right place at the right time.
  • Hold the mala in one hand and let it dangle easily.
  • Touch the guru bead with your opposite hand.
  • As you move your fingers to the next bead, repeat your mantra out loud, as a whisper, or silently in your mind.
  • Continue until you feel the guru bead again.