Whether you are a newbie on the yoga mat or a seasoned guru, I'm sure that at one point or another, you've heard of or at least seen someone in class with the classically cool, boho-inspired, beaded necklace with a tassel hanging on the end. Early on in my yoga journey, I thought it ended there... Just a fresh looking accessory that you see all of the Instagram yoga models wearing... I went to a Mala-making workshop at my favorite hot yoga studio one Saturday afternoon and was so inspired that I just wanted to learn more. Little did I know, these pretty necklaces hold a much higher meaning and have been used for thousands of years in Eastern traditions worldwide. Here is just a bit of what I learned..
Here is a quick sum-up of the meaning and history of the Mala:
Malas are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a deity. This practice is known in Sanskrit as "japa". Malas are typically made with 18, 27, 54 or 108 beads (in Tibetan Buddhism, malas of 108 beads are used). Some practitioners use malas of 21 or 28 beads for doing prostrations.
In Tibetan Buddhism, malas are mainly used to count mantras. These mantras can be recited for different purposes linked to working with mind.
The material used to make the beads can vary according to the purpose of the mantras used. Some beads can be used for all purposes and all kinds of mantras. Another general-purpose mala can be made from rattan seeds; the beads themselves called "moon and stars" by Tibetans, and variously called "lotus root", "lotus seed" and "linden nut" by various retailers. The bead itself is very hard and dense, ivory-colored (which gradually turns a deep golden brown with long use), and has small holes (moons) and tiny black dots (stars) covering its surface.
Pacifying mantras are often at recited using white colored malas. Materials such as crystal, pearl, shell/conch or nacre are preferable. These are said to purify the mind and clear away obstacles like illness, bad karma and mental disturbances. Using pearls is not practical however, as repeated use will destroy their iridescent layer. Most often, pearl malas are used for jewelry.
Increasing mantras should be recited using malas of gold, silver, copper and amber. The mantras counted on these can "serve to increase life span, knowledge and merit."
Mantras for magnetizing should be recited using malas made of saffron, lotus seed, sandalwood, or other forms of wood including elm, peach, and rosewood. However, it is said the most effective is made of precious coral, which, due to a ban on harvesting, is now very rare and expensive.
Mantras to tame by forceful means should be recited using malas made of Rudraksha beads. Reciting mantras with this kind of mala is said to tame others, but with the motivation to unselfishly help other sentient beings.
Malas to tame by forceful means or subdue harmful energies, such as "extremely malicious spirits, or general afflictions", are made from rudraksha seeds, or even human bones, with 108 beads on the string. It is said that only a person that is motivated by great compassion for all beings, including those they try to tame, can do this.
Pretty cool, right? And thats just the start of what I've researched. You can really delve deep to find the significance with the number 108, the vibrations held and emitted from the natural stone beads used, the anatomy of the Mala, techniques for using a Mala, etc! I wish I could go through all of these interesting topics here on this blog post, but I would end up writing an entire book at that point. Keep posted because I'm totally looking forward to teaching you everything I know about the Mala and how this super boho-chic accessory and truly transform your yoga and meditation practice, and we all know how that translates into your daily life.