When I first started my Yoga practice, I didn’t realize how important Malas are to many Yogis.
I didn’t even know what Malas were.
A few years ago, however, I wound up in a studio where Malas were very present and meaningful. They adorned the necks and wrists of the Yogis I admired. They sat displayed on shelves in all their glamour, waiting for their owners.
Excitedly, I attended a workshop on the making and use of Malas.
Thus began my journey into the wonderful world of Malas.
I see these sacred tools in many forms as I go throughout my day. In creating and wearing my own, I’ve been asked questions about what they are and what they mean.
Here’s the short answer.
Malas are a string of beads used in prayer, meditation, chanting, and for reciting mantras or intentions.
While the name Mala is typically associated with Buddhism and Hinduism, the look and use of Malas are present in many religions and spiritual practices. Malas can be likened to rosaries in Catholicism or the misbaha in Islam. They can be seen around the necks of Yogis and in the hands of energy workers.
The construction of a Mala is intentional all the way through – from the selection of materials to the meaning given by the person wearing it.
The materials used to make Malas have natural energetic properties and hold sacred, spiritual meaning. Traditionally, Malas are made with rudraksha beads or sandalwood; although, other seeds and wood are frequently used. Today, Malas are also constructed using precious stones such as onyx, howlite, amethyst, and moonstone (just to name a few).
The number of beads used in Malas are intentional as well. A typical Mala necklace contains 108 beads (with 108 being an important sacred number) but can be shortened to contain 9, 18, 27, or 54 beads.
The Mala is then fastened with a guru bead, also known as the teacher bead. The guru bead signals a transition point in reciting mantras.
Along with the selection of the base bead, personalization of a Mala includes string color and material, the presence of a tassle, the use of a pendant, inclusion of marker beads, knots in between the beads, and the intention set while beading (i.e. peace, love, joy).
I have heard stories of people who use Malas to calm anxiety, anger, and other uncomfortable emotions. This is frequently done by choosing a mantra, such as “I am calm” or “I am focused,” to be repeated while touching each bead.
For me, Malas help to focus my mind and attention while recalling an intention I have set for myself. For instance, my personal Mala is constructed with precious stones that remind me to emanate love and safety. I am further reminded to view each situation objectively in order to understand the lesson that I can learn and the positivity to be found.
To learn more about the use and construction of Malas, read Beads of Faith: Pathways to Meditation and Spirituality Using Rosaries, Prayer Beads, and Sacred Words.
See also 11 Benefits of Burning Sage to learn more about using sage to cleanse your Mala.
For general information on precious and semi-precious stones, visit the website for International Gem Society.
📸: Chelsea Shapouri