Meditation malas, or prayer beads, are strings of beads that can be worn as a necklace or bracelet. They are made with various types of wood, seed, stone, or other material, but are generally smooth and strung in a manner that allows meditators to roll the beads over the fingers.
There are usually 108 beads on a mala and a 109th bead referred to as the 'head bead' or in some cases the 'guru bead'. Bracelet malas are oftentimes made with 27 beads and a 28th 'head bead'. The 108 beads represent the 108 worldly sins in the Buddhist tradition. The number of beads is always a multiple of '9', which is considered a sacred number in the Hindu tradition. While one would meditate on all 108 beads of the necklace, one would go around the beads of the wrist mala 4 times to achieve a meditation on 108 beads.
The 'head bead' allows us to meditate through the beads without watching as we can feel when the head bead is reached. Generally, we never cross over the head bead, but turn the mala around at that point and begin counting in the return direction.
Typically, a meditation session with a meditation mala looks something like this. To begin with, we can decide whether we want to count breaths, mantra repetitions, or repetitions of a prayer or some other sacred phrase. We would then prepare for meditation whether it be in a sitting meditation posture, kneeling, sitting in a chair, or even performing japa, which is a slow, gentle walking meditation.
The illustration to the left is from The Sanatan Society and demonstrates how to hold the mala for counting. Note how the beads are laid over the middle finger. The index finger rests comfortably out of the way and the thumb is used to roll each individual bead over the middle finger.
For each bead, you can count the in and out breath, the mantra repetition, prayer, or sacred phrase. Gently roll the bead over the middle finger with each repetition. When you reach the head bead, you can hang the hand down and gently turn the necklace or bracelet around. It's okay to grasp the head bead with the index finger and thumb to rotate the necklace or bracelet.
If you are using a meditation timer to time your session, it's best to set a time that will allow you to make all 108 repetitions at least once, but if you don't have time to make all the repetitions, don't worry. You never want to get anxious about anything related to meditation. It is there to serve you and to make your life calm, relaxed, and better. Allowing anything to induce anxiety into your life simply will not serve you. There is no "sin" or "wrong" in meditation, and no God or other being is going to punish you for not completing 108 repetitions.
The same is true for the type of meditation bead you use. There are many types of materials used for beads and some will claim to have certain meanings. On our web site, we suggest the following meanings for each type of mala:
- Bodhi Seed - promotes enlightenment
- Ebony Wood - increases concentration, favored by royalty
- Lotus Seed - promotes spiritual and material wealth
- Rosewood - promotes healing and improves circulation
- Rudraksha Seed - promotes inner peace and knowledge
- Sandalwood - promotes tranquility (and has a nice scent)
- Tulsie Wood or Holy Basil - promotes devotion
In some cases, you may simply prefer to choose the type of meditation mala that appeals to you by its appearance. But, it's also nice to hold the idea of the meaning of the beads in mind while meditating. In either case, using meditation malas during your meditation practice can help to increase focus during meditation.
I hope these thoughts are helpful to you.
Thank you for reading,
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