108 beads: anatomy and meaning of malas
Have you ever wondered why you've seen so many yogis with necklaces or wrist wraps of exactly 108 beads and a tassle at the end? It's not just about fashion, these are mala prayer beads and they have a deep spiritual significance dating to the 8th century B.C.E.
Malas are used to keep count while reciting, chanting or mentally repeating a mantra or the name of a deity, or just for simply counting breaths. Sliding your fingers over each individual bead while repeating a mantra creates focus during spiritual practice by incorporating a tangible movement in rhythm with the mind. Using this tactical practice as you sit in silence can have deeply healing effects.
The anatomy of a mala necklace:
108 Beads: In Buddhist tradition, 108 is the conventional number of beads for malas representing the 108 kleshas that cloud the mind. (Yoga teaches there are five main kleshas that cloud the mind -- ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and clinging to life. Buddhism teaches that the kleshas manifest in108 states of mind such as anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, depression.) In Hinduism, Vedic mathematicians believed 108 represented the wholeness of existence. Some have said there are 108 stages of the human soul’s journey, and others link spiritual enlightenment with taking 108 breaths a day while meditating. In yogic tradition, the body has 108 sacred places. Others say malas have 100 beads for mantra recitation plus 8 extra for miscounts!
The Guru Bead: The last bead on the string that usually attaches to a tassel is called the guru bead and acts as a tangible reminder that you've completed 108 mantras. This bead is believed to represent the student-guru (teacher) relationship. Since it is believed to be disrespectful to cross over the guru bead, if you wish to continue meditating, when you reach the guru bead, turn around and count the opposite way when you reach the guru bead.
Stones: Malas are created with natural stones and minerals. Different stones offer different types of healing. For example, the Carnelian Mala promotes peace and harmony while encouraging stamina and bolstering courage. Using natural stones from the earth can enhance our deep spiritual connection to the divine while we meditate.
Here's a simple prayer bead mediation:
1. Choose a spot where you can sit comfortably with a straight spine
2. Take a few deep grounding breaths to settle into your space
3. Choose a simple mantra for your practice. If you can't think of one, deep breathing will also work. Consider the Tibetan mantra Om Mani Padme Hum; by chanting this mantra with discipline, Tibetan Buddhists believe you can transform the impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha.
4. Hold your mala beads draped between your middle and index fingers. Start at the guru bead and work your way through each bead using your thumb as you pull the necklace towards you. With each bead, recite your mantra
5. Repeat the mantra 108 times, traveling around the mala from bead to bead, until you reach the guru bead once again
shop the chattra mala collection hand strung by the nuns of Dolma Ling Nunnery, Dharamshala, India: https://chattra.com/
Yogini Shireen is chattra's marketing master. She is a San Francisco Bay Area native. She has been practicing yoga for over a decade and became a certified Ashtanga Yoga teacher in Bali in 2015. She was a buyer for YogaOutlet.com for four years and Sports Basement for three. She spearheaded a yoga & wellness retreat at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, including organizing an Ayurveda workshop in 2017. She is passionate about living in harmony with nature and in oneness with each other.