Buddhist prayer beads / malas are necklaces and wrist bracelets that you can use for meditation.
These traditional Buddhist bead necklaces are so much more than just jewelry. They are one of the essential tools used in meditation, and they have special healing properties based on the particular material of the beads, tassel and the thread.
I personally absolutely love Buddhist prayer beads / malas. And I want to share everything I know about Buddhist prayer beads, from years of working as a meditation teacher.
Here’s what we’re going to look at in this guide:
- How To Use Them
- What are Buddhist prayer beads / malas?
- Benefits of malas
- Why there are 108 beads on a mala
- The meaning and benefits of different gemstones used in malas
- How to make malas the DIY way
- How to use Buddhist prayer beads for meditation
- Best to buy
- How to cleanse a mala
So, let’s get started with this big guide to Buddhist prayer beads.
Tons of people buy malas without actually knowing diddly squat about them. Let’s correct that.
Meditation malas (Buddhist prayer bead necklaces and wrist straps) are one of the absolute most important products for meditators. (The fact that they look stylish is just a little bonus).
Called Japa in Sanskrit , meditation malas are Buddhist prayer bead necklaces and wrist bracelets made of gemstones. They come in various sizes, from wrist malas (18 or 27 beads) to full length malas, which are 108 beads long.
The beads go by many names. Tibetan malas are traditionally called “moon and stars”. And some retailers call them “lotus root”, “lotus seed” and “linden nut”.
These beads are used to count the breath when meditating, or when reciting mantras.
Buddhist prayer beads are made of various gemstones, each of which has different spiritual properties (see below).
The last bead is called a guru bead. This is a sacred bead that is used to represent the connection between student and teacher, and to express gratitude and appreciation.
And there is also the tassel. The way in which the different pieces of the string come together to form the tassel is said to represent oneness, like each person on Earth coming together to create one collective unconscious.
Those are the basic parts of a Buddhist prayer bead necklace and bracelet. But there’s more you need to know if you want to buy malas or make malas at home via DIY. So let’s look a little deeper.
Next time you buy malas wow the cashier by telling them why there are 108 beads on a Buddhist prayer bead necklace.
The actual number 108 is important because:
1: stands for God
0: stands for nothingness
8: stands for eternity
108 is an auspicious number. It’s the same reason why we often do 108 sun salutations in yoga.
- There are 108 Mukya Shivaganas
- There are 108 energy lines that converge to form the heart chakra.
- There are 108 earthly desires
- There are 108 Upanishads (sacred texts)
- In astrology if you multiply the 12 houses by the 9 planets you get 108
- The sun is 108 x the diameter of the Earth. And 108x that diameter = the distance between the sun and Earth
The meaning of different gemstones:
When you want to buy malas (or DIY malas) you’ve gotta know your gemstones. Here’s the meaning and benefits of different Buddhist prayer beads:
Amazonite: for calm, alleviating fear and anxiety
Amethyst: for peace, stability and calm
Black Onyx: for alignment and connection
Carnelian: for abundance, prosperity and ambition
Calcedony: for stability, harmony and dreams
Citrine: for happiness, strength and though
Clear Quartz: for energy, creativity and clarity
Calmatian Jasper: for determination, strength and friendship
Garnet: for energy, charkras and balance
Green Aventurine: for new beginnings and prosperity
Howlite: for calm and third eye (ajna chakra)
Lapis Luzuli: for wisdom, intuition and third eye chakra
Moonstone: for intuition, dreams and energy
Obsidian: for protection and grounding
Ocean jasper: for relaxation, self love and calmness
Pearl: for purity, innocence and imagination
Prehnite: for energy and spirit
Pyrite: for fire energy and vitality
Red jasper: for grounding, balance and healing
Rhodonite: for Yin, Yaang and love
Rose Quartz: for love harmony and heart chakra
Rosewood: for proteciton and spirituality
Rudraksha seeds: for healing and guidance
Sandalwood: for calm and desire
Smokey Quatz: for grounding and stabilizing
Turqoise: for truth, grounding and proetction
White jade: for potential, goals and success
The Best Meditation Mala Prayer Bead Necklaces And Bracelets For 2019
1. MeruBeads Premium Mala Beads Necklace Mala Necklace
- Good: sustainable produce, great customer service, beautiful mala
- Bad: tassel feels a little loose
I’d take the word “Premium” with a pinch of salt here given that some meditation mala necklaces cost hundreds of dollars. However, for a reasonable price this is probably the best mala necklace on Amazon that I’ve seen.
It’s made of Lapis Lazuli and Rudraksha beads The former stimulates the intellect while the latter enhances relaxation and inner peace.
One of the nice touches of this mala is that it is produced sustainably and no trees are lost in the product, which will be important to most yogis.
The mala comes packaged in a cute little cotton carry bag.
2. Mala Lapis Lazuli
Good: Very high quality
Bad: A little expensive
This is a genuine Lapis Lazuli mala. The stone itself is often called the “Philosopher’s Stone” because it represents the wisdom of the higher mind. This Buddhist prayer beads mala creates a spiritual representation of one’s life. It is a beautiful blue color and is very finely made. One of the best malas to buy.
3. Bali Bali Mala Beads Necklace [Rhodonite / Benefit = emotional healing]
- Pros: Great price, charmingly packaged, high quality
- Cons: Heavy
Rhodonite is the stone of compassion and is known for creating emotional balance, which is precisely what this mala beads necklace does. It is full of positive energy for the heart, which will help with relationship problems.
This is a 108 beads mala necklace that can be worn on the neck or wrist and it certainly is attractive enough to be worn as decorative jewelry too. The tassel is soft but sturdy and the quality is sure to last if you treat it right. The only slight setback about this Buddhist mala necklace is that it is quite heavy.
Have you ever tried to make your own Buddhist prayer bead necklaces and bracelets? It’s such a wonderfully relaxing activity, and you end up with a beautiful mala. Plus, DIY malas can feel more special than buying a mala because, well, you crafted it yourself so it’s part of you, like a wooden baby you wrap around your neck… or something.
Seriously though, making mala bead necklaces can takes several hours. And it definitely requires patience. But it’s a wonderful, joyous hobby that I highly recommend.
Simply go to your favourite Buddhist beads store and pick out the prayer beads you would like to use for your mala. Personally, I chose to use coral because I love the feel of it and it reminds me of the water.
Once you’ve got your prayer beads, go home, put on some beautiful meditation music and get out all the items you will need to make your mala.
Then set to it. Gradually. This is a time when you should feel a deep state of Zen within you. Crafting your own mala is a patient and relaxing activity. And it’s really not about the mala that you make, it’s about the way you feel while you’re making it.
Make the mala beads necklace slowly, and really enjoy the experience. You’re going to find this a wonderfully relaxing activity that will boost your happiness and make you feel a deep sense of self love.
This is a beautiful process and it makes for an excellent gift.
Veronica Krestow has a brilliant video tutorial on how to make your own mala beads and bracelets.
So now you have a meditation mala, here’s how to use Buddhist prayer beads / malas for meditation: [I’ve written a more in-depth guide to how to use them here.]
- Hold your mala in your right hand.
- Count by moving your thumb onto one of the Buddhist prayer bead. Count either each in-breath or each repetition of a mantra of Japa.
- Gently pull the prayer bead towards you
- Move on to the next prayer bead
- The mountain bead or guru bead (the large bead) is used to mark the beginning and ending of the meditation period
- If you are using a wrist mala (which has 27 beads) repeat 4 full cycles to do a full mala (27 x 4 = 108)
- After you have meditated with your Buddhist prayer beads mala for around a month (meditating once a day) your mala will be empowered with energy. You can then wear that mala necklace or bracelet to feel the energy.
How To Use Prayer Beads For Meditaiton
So what is a prayer bead?
They’re essentially an item of jewelry warn to help with meditation.
Prayer beads contain 108 beads, which are strung together with a piece of thread, and a singular bead called a “guru bead” which is significantly larger than the others. This guru bead is very important because it is the marker that you use to mark the end of the necklace and the end of your meditation session.
As well as the guru bead you may notice that your prayer beads necklace also contains other larger beads, usually spaced on every 27th bead, which is every one quarter of the complete mala. Some malas have them placed halfway through the mala at the 54th bead instead. These are “spacers”. When you get to the spacers” you should take a moment to check-in with yourself, to refocu your mind in case it’s started to wander.
So, what is the point in these prayer beads and how do you use malas for meditating?
How To Wear Prayer Beads
There is a right way to wear mala necklaces and a wrong way. If you want to heal with malas all you have to do is put them around your neck and you’re ready to get going on your yoga practice. Simple. But if you want to get the most out of them you can wear multiple malas at the same time. This looks beautiful because you get different textures and colours to compliment your style, plus you get the multi-dimensional benefits of the malas for healing.
Even though wearing mala beads is simple there are a couple of points you should know about it. For starters, you shouldn’t let your mala beads touch the ground because this will interfere with the energy resonance. If you do accidentally drop your mala you will want to cleanse it in salt water.
You also might not want to let other people touch your mala beads because they can transmit their own energy to them that way. Whether you choose to follow these rules for wearing mala beads will depend on your own beliefs. So if you don’t believe it matters then, hey, no sweat.
There are rules for wearing mala bracelets too. Most yogis believe they should be worn on the right wrist, although I personally do not follow this and instead wear them on the left (it’s a matter of personal belief, after all). I honestly don’t think wearing mala beads on the left hand is a problem. Do you?
So, there are a few rules for wearing mala beads but you can choose whether or not to go along with them.
What matters more is how to meditate with mala beads.
Rules for wearing prayers beads.
- Firstly, never let your prayer beads touch the ground. This is said to deplete the healing energy from the mala. If you do accidentally drop your mala on the ground, you should cleanse the mala beads before wearing them again.
- Do not let other people touch your mala beads because this can pass negative energy into the beads. If people do touch them, cleanse your prayer beads right away.
- The best way to wear wrist malas is to wear them on your right wrist.
So that is how to wear mala beads. Now let’s look at how to use prayer beads in meditation.
Meditating with them
As well as being a fab fashion accessory, mala beads are a powerful tool for meditation. By learning how to use prayer beads for meditation you will be more able to focus when you meditate. The process of rolling the beads in your fingers is a gentle motion that helps to calm the mind and focus your attention.
Take a look at your mala. Notice that you have a tassel, which you will reach once you go all the way around your mala, which is usually 108 beads. Then you’re got a big bead that is called the “guru” bead. And there are 108 beads on the necklace. These are all the important parts of your prayer beads necklace.
When you hold your prayer beads in meditation you will want to hold them in your dominant hand with the tassel pointing towards you. You then start with the big bead, the “guru” bead in your right hand. With each breath of your meditation, or with each mantra recitation, you will move one bead along the necklace. Move the beads using your thumb instead of your index finger because the index finger represents the ego. Keep meditating until you reach the guru bead.
You will also want to coordinate your breathing with the mala when meditating. To do this move the mala bead as you breathe in and you might like to count the breath too. The same thing applies when you use a mantra. For instance, if I’m meditating on “Om” I will breathe in, move the mala bead one across, recite “Om”, breathe out, and then breathe in again and move to the next bead.
One good thing to do when meditating with prayer beads is to make sure you move the beads in a calm way. If you try to rush your meditation you will notice that you hold the beads too tight and move them in a violent way. Go gently with them. Feel the smoothness of the beads and let that smoothness relax your mind. That’s the best way to use prayer beads for meditation.
One of the most popular ways of using malas for meditation is when doing mantra recitation.
When we are doing mantra meditation we are meditating on sacred sounds such as the famous “Om”.
Some mantras, such as Om, are short and easy to count. Other mantras are very long, such as the Gayatri mantra. Keeping count of these is hard unless you have the proper equipment, i.e. your mala.
Not only do prayer beads help you to keep count, they also help you to relax and focus on meditation.
When using prayer beads for mantra meditation we count in groups of 108, with one full mantra being 108 recitations (many types of mantra meditation also require us to chant specifically 108 times, so one full mala).
Here is an example of how to use prayer beads meditation
- Place the mala at the top of the yoga mat.
- Set your intentions. For instance, tell yourself that you are meditating to create inner peace or to send out love (the specific mala you use should match your intent)
- Sit comfortably
- Take hold of the mala in one hand and let it drop gently.
- Touch the guru bead with the other hand
- Each time you breathe in and out, move to a new bead of the mala
- Keep going until you reach the guru bead (the end bead).
- To take this further, choose a mantra to recite, such as OM. Recite the mantra once for each bead on the mala.
- Keep going until you reach the guru bead.
- Express thanks for the meditation and take a moment to contemplate.
How To Hold And Move The Beads
There is a specific way to hold the prayer beads and to move them between your fingers. Like so:
- Hold the prayer beads in your dominant hand with the tassel of the mala facing towards you
- The first bead (the one you begin on) is the one to the right of the guru bead
- Gracefully turn the beads in your fingers (without using your index finger, which is the finger of the ego) as you make your way to the next bead. Preferably turn the beads with your thumb.
- You should hold the mala and the beads in a controlled but gentle way.
- Feel the union between your breath and the movement of the prayer beads.
- You will eventually come full circle and will find yourself on the guru bead. This is a time to pause and to reflect. Sit still and express gratitude for your meditation session.
Adding Dorje And Bells
There are some types of mantra recitations that require you to recite the mantra very many times, sometimes into the tens of thousands.
Mantras like these can be difficult to keep track of. That’s why it can be beneficial to use a dorje and bell , which are important objects use in Tibetan Buddhist meditation.
These are two short strings that contain ten small beads. These are then attached to your main mala. One of the ends of these pieces of string has the bell attached to it, and the other end has the dorje.
You use the dorje to count complete cycles of the mala. This way you know precisely how many recitations you have done, because you have the full-mantra count (shown by the dorje) plus the bead of the mala that you are currently on.
Once you have moved the dorje up ten beads you then have the bell counter. This counts 1000 recitations.
Between the mala, the dorje and the bell you can count up to 10,000 mantra recitations.
It is important to cleanse mala beads so that they carry the right energy for your meditations.
Traditionally there is no prescribed time for when you should cleanse mala beads. It is all about getting in touch with your intuition. Do you feel that you should be cleansing your mala beads? There will be an observable energy in your being that tells you when it is time.
The longer you wear your mala necklace / mala bracelet the more the energy of those Buddhist prayer beads will be affected by the frequencies of other people.
Feel your mala beads. Ask yourself: are they creating the right energy? If not, it’s time to cleanse your mala beads.
How to cleanse your beads
- Sit outside and place your mala beads in the light of the sun or moon. The energy of the light will help to remove negative energy from the mala. It is a purifying process.
- Place your mala on the ground and burn dried white sage near it so that the smoke rolls over the mala.
- While the mala is being cleansed chant OM for 108 recitations.
- Wash the mala with seat-salt-water. For best result, wash it in the ocean.
- You may like to cleanse your meditation crystals at the same time. [take a look at my guide to the best meditation crystals for more on this]
And that is pretty much everything you need to know about Buddhist prayer beads / malas.
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