If you meditate, practice yoga or aim for spiritual balance, you might have heard people talking of mala beads necklaces or mala beads bracelets also called yoga bracelets.
And you thought: “OK great, but what are mala beads anyways?” and “how can they really help me?”.
So today, let’s soothe your curious mind by helping you understand what mala beads truly are and how they can help you feel calm and more balanced in your everyday life.
What are Mala Beads and what are they used for?
In short, mala beads (or japamala beads) are used in Hinduism and Buddhism during prayers to help recite mantras. In fact, they have a similar role to rosaries in other religions. Generally used in the form of bracelets or necklaces by those who practise Japa meditation, mala beads have helped people move forward in their spiritual journey for at least 3,000 years. Just that!
Let’s say that even if nowadays, malas are getting trendier by the minute and considered elegant pieces of apparel by yogis and fashionistas, those are far from being new. They are part of a long-proven spiritual practice and represent a precious cultural heritage.
Traditionally made of 108 beads, malas can be made from various materials. Some (mostly modern ones) can be made of gemstones, but traditional mala beads tend to be made of Rudraksha, sandalwood, or bodhi. For instance, here at OhanaTribe, I decided to create my malas using Rudraksha.
And for people wearing mala beads in their everyday life, a simple touch can help quiet the monkey mind that sometimes gets out of control. Whether you feel overwhelmed at work, a family matter is occupying your head space, or you are experiencing any other unpleasant emotion, the power of mala beads will help you sooth your mind.
What are the benefits of Rudraksha?
Rudraksha are seeds found in a marvellous tree named “Elaeocarpus ganitrus”. I know, I won’t even try pronouncing it!
I prefer to call it as it is called in Sanskrit, and that is the Rudraksha Tree.
This evergreen tree grows and matures in the dense forests of Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, and Indonesia (where it thrives because of the volcanic soils).
So, the tree, the vibrant blueberry-like fruit it produces and it’s precious seeds are all called Rudraksha. We simply add tree, fruit or seeds to specify to which part we are referring to. The Rudraksha Mala beads are in fact the seeds found within the fruit.
Rudraksha are 100% natural and therefore, sustainable. Which is not the case for crystals and gemstones (because, mining!). I still like them, but I try to avoid overusing them and make sure to source them mindfully.
Rudraksha mala beads are considered very powerful and can offer many benefits to those who are on a journey of self-realization.
To name just a few of their benefits, they :
- Reduce stress
- Dissipate fear
- Calm the nervous system
- Lead the wearer on a path of truth and purpose
- Sharpen the mind and amplify the power of intuition
- Protect from negativity and obstacles
- Create a more profound connection with the universe and positive forces in nature
- And boost the soul with shakti (cosmic energy), helping the wearer express his or her divine power and wisdom.
Because of all these reasons, let’s just say that I like Rudraksha very much! This is why I chose to mainly use Rudraksha beads to design all the malas offered on OhanaTribe. Since the beginning, I have decided to work closely with the artisans of Aum Rudraksha Designs in Bali to create my exclusive designs of Rudraksha mala beads. All the malas we offer result from this sincere and authentic relationship. It is important for me to encourage directly the people who so-kindly harvest, bless and hand-knot each and every Rudraksha bead that we offer.
A blessing from the ever-radiant god with a trident
Fun fact: Did you know that the word “Rudraksha” comes from the combination of the Sanskrit words “Rudra” and “Aksa”.
- Rudra: one of Shiva’s vedic names
- Aksa: teardrops
Which is why you’ll often hear yogis or gurus refer to Rudraksha as the “Tears of Lord Shiva”.
It is believed in Hindu mythology that Shiva emerged from a deep and long meditation about humanity and then started to cry tears of compassion. When his tears reached the ground, they transformed into divine seeds for the benefit of mankind. To help us be more at peace and in harmony within ourselves and with the entire universe.
Pretty poetic. Isn’t it? That’s the story that really made me fall in love with Rudraksha. I find it very inspiring and a great reminder to be compassionate with ourselves and others.
So next time somebody asks you what are these strange looking beads you are wearing, feel free to share that story. As you do, you are planting that seed Shiva wanted us all to cultivate within our hearts.
Why do meditation Mala have 108 beads?
While some say that having 108 beads could be a reference to the chakras and the 108 nadis or energy tunnels linked to the human heart, others say it’s because there are 108 pithas (yogic sacred sites) spread throughout India.
Another theory (also my personal favorite) is from ancient Vedic mathematicians who considered 108 to represent the wholeness of existence. 1 representing unity or oneness, 0 representing nothingness from which we emerged or the non-existence of the ego and 8 symbolising infinity or the unlimited power of the mind and the universe.
Others believe that this number is closely related to the Sanskrit alphabet. Because it contains 54 letters. 54 letters for which there is a feminine and a masculine variation. 54×2 = 108.
So on and so forth…
There might not be only one definitive answer. And that’s the beauty of it. 108, as a sacred number, is as profound as it is open to interpretation.
Hence, there is room to choose whichever meaning you prefer or feel is right.
How to hold Mala Beads in meditation?
Don’t worry, it’s quite simple.
If you don’t know where to start, we suggest you try these 10 easy steps to meditate with Mala beads:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. A comfortable armchair, a meditation cushion, what’s really important is to sit tall by lengthening your spine and try to keep your shoulders and jaw relaxed.
- Then simply hold your mala necklace or bracelet in one hand.
- Whenever you feel comfy enough, close your eyes.
- As you draw your attention inward, this is the perfect time to choose a mantra, an affirmation or an intention (sankalpa).
- Once you have chosen your mantra, start off by taking three clearing breaths. For each breath go slightly deeper on your inhales and try exhaling as slowly as possible.
- As you hold the first mala bead on your bracelet or necklace, recite your mantra or simply take a full cycle of breath. Once completed, start moving your beads from your thumb towards your middle finger. One by one.
- If you have a bracelet: stop whenever you feel as calm and peaceful as you want to.
- For those using a mala necklace : recite your mantra until you’ve come across the 108 beads. Then, stop at the guru bead (the one closest to the tassel) and take the time to give thanks to your guru, to the universe or to offer your meditation to someone.
- Start over if you feel like going on longer. It’s the beauty of meditating with Mala beads, no alarm needed!
- Enjoy the benefits. And Yes! you can wear them as a reminder of your intention throughout your day.
This is it. I hope that you now have a better understanding of what mala beads are and can appreciate how the sacred origin of Rudraksha can help you on your spiritual path.
Much love and gratitude, Faten