In this guide, we will be looking at how to choose mala beads, as well as how to buy, use, cleanse and meditate with mala beads (which are also called “prayer beads”).
Here’s what we’ll look at:
- How To Use mala beads
- How To Choose Mala Beads
- Why there are 108 beads on a mala
- The meaning and benefits of different gemstones
- How to make them
- How to use malas for meditation
- Best malas to buy
- How to cleanse a mala
How To Choose Mala Bead Necklaces & Bracelets
Meditation malas / yoga beads are necklaces and bracelets used for meditation.
These traditional Buddhist meditation bead necklaces are so much more than just jewellery. They are one of the essential tools used in meditation.
Different types of meditation malas have special healing properties based on the particular material of the beads, tassel and the thread. That’s why, when you choose your mala beads necklace, the first thing to consider is the material the beads are made from. You can find below a list of the different types of malas.
You will also want to consider the number of beads.
In the 8th Century BCE, monks started to use “monk beads” to help them count breaths during meditation. Because monks count breaths in cycles of 108, they created the Buddhist “108 bead malas”--one cycle around the necklace representing one cycle of breaths.
However, today you can also get small wrist malas that typically have 27 beads. So you will also need to consider whether you prefer a mala necklace or bracelet when you choose mala beads.
The beads go by many names. Tibetan malas are traditionally called “moon and stars”. Many retailers prefer to call them “lotus root”, “lotus seed” and “linden nut”. Or you can just call them “yoga beads”.
The last bead on the mala is called a guru bead. This is a sacred bead that represents the connection between student and teacher and expresses gratitude and appreciation.
And there is also the tassel. A big part of the meditation beads’ meaning is based on the tassel. How 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. So when you choose a mala necklace, make sure you also like the tassel and not just the beads.
Choosing mala beads based on gemstones
When it comes to choosing mala beads to buy, your first choice will be the type of gemstone to get. Here are the meanings and benefits of the different gemstones:
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, chakras 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 protection and spirituality
Rudraksha seeds: for healing and guidance
Sandalwood: for calm and desire
Smokey Quatz: for grounding and stabilizing
Turqoise: for truth, grounding and protection
White jade: for potential, goals and success
Why There Are 108 Meditation Prayer Beads
There is a specific reason why there are 108 meditation prayer beads on a mala.
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
Best mala beads for 2020
- Good: sustainable produce, excellent customer service, beautiful mala
- Bad: tassel feels a little loose
- Choose this mala necklace if: You want a good quality mala that stimulates intelligence and inner peace.
I’d take the word “Premium” with a pinch of salt here given that some meditation mala necklaces cost hundreds of dollars. However, it’s really nice for a relatively cheap mala bead necklace.
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 one is that it is produced sustainably and no trees are lost in production.
The mala comes packaged in a cute little cotton carry bag.
2. Mala Lapis Lazuli
- Good: Very high quality
- Bad: A little expensive
- Choose this mala necklace if: You like pretty malas that stimulate wisdom.
This is one of the best malas on Amazon. It is a bit pricey, but high quality and reasonably priced compared to some other manufacturers (I have one that cost $350).
It is a genuine Lapis Lazuli mala. The meaning of Lapis Lazuli is all about intellect. It goes by the name “Philosopher’s Stone”. No. Nothing to do with Harry Potter. It’s called that because it represents the wisdom of the higher mind. This meditation prayer beads mala creates a spiritual representation of one’s life. It is a beautiful blue colour with gorgeous craftsmanship.
3. Bali Bali
- Pros: Great price, charmingly packaged, high quality
- Cons: Heavy
- Choose this mala necklace if: You want to boost your compassion and achieve emotional balance.
Rhodonite is the stone of compassion and is known for creating emotional balance, which is precisely what this Buddhist bead necklace does. It is full of positive energy for the heart, which will help with relationship problems.
It can be worn on the neck or wrist, and is attractive enough to be worn as decorative jewellery to your next yoga party 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 meditation mala necklace is that it is quite heavy.
Buddha Beads Bracelet By COAI
Good: Beautiful earthy design
Bad: String is a little delicate
Choose this mala bracelet if: You want Buddha beads with a perfect balance of masculine and feminine energy.
This Buddha beads bracelet comes in various choices of stone. The meaning of the Buddha head bracelet is that it reminds us of the supreme power of the universe and to follow Dharma, the wisdom of the Buddha.
It’s an elegantly designed meditation mala bracelet and looks beautiful. I especially like the beautiful balance between masculine and feminine, which makes it ideal for both men and women. It has small beads, which will look better on a smaller wrist. The colours are deep, and the beads look glorious. For a relatively cheap wrist mala, this is a bargain.
How To Meditate With Mala Beads
Above we looked at how to choose mala beads. Now let’s look more closely at how to use meditation beads for meditation.
The first thing to do is to remember the parts of the mala. Understanding the different elements will help you to use mala beads for meditation properly.
Meditation beads contain 108 beads, which are strung together with a piece of thread, and a single bead called a “guru bead”, which is significantly larger than the others. The guru bead is essential 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 meditation prayer beads necklace also contains other large beads, usually spaced on every 27th bead, which is every one-quarter of the complete mala. Necklaces may have these beads placed halfway through, at the 54th bead instead. These are “spacers”. When you get to the spacers” you should take a moment to check-in with yourself and refocus your mind if you’re getting distracted.
So, what is the point in these prayer beads, and how do you do meditation with beads?
Holding The Beads
- Firstly, never let your prayer beads touch the ground. If you do, it will 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.
Meditation with mala beads
Now let’s look at how to do a meditation with malas beads.
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 meditation 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 unless you have a mala beads bracelet in which case there will be 27 beads. Then you’ve got a big bead that is called the “guru” bead. And there are 108 beads on the necklace. These are all the essential parts of your prayer beads necklace.
To use beads in meditation, hold them lovingly.
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. We move the mala when meditating by moving it on each breath or each recitation of a mantra. 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 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 beads is to make sure you calmly move the beads. If you try to rush your meditation, you will notice that you hold the beads too tight and move them in a violent way. Be gentle 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 “Om”.
Short mantras like Om are 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, but they also help you to relax and focus on meditation.
When using prayer beads for meditation, we count in groups of 108, with one full mala being 108 recitations (many types of mantra meditation also require us to chant specifically 108 times, so one full mala).
- 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 (choose a mala beads necklace that matches 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 Meditation Beads
There is a specific way to hold and move Buddhist prayer beads. 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 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 find yourself on the guru bead. This is a time to pause and reflect. Sit still and express gratitude for your meditation session.
Adding Dorje And Bells
While you’re choosing mala beads, you might also like to consider Dorje and Bells, which we use for extended meditation sessions.
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 with a regular mala, and so we accessorise malas with a dorje and bell . These are two short strings that contain ten small beads, which you can use for counting above 108.
How To Meditate With A Mala, Dorje And Bell
You use the dorje to count complete cycles of the mala when meditating. 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.
Wearing Meditation Beads
There is a right way how to wear meditation beads and a wrong way. If you chose your mala beads for healing purposes, all you have to do is put it around your neck or wrist. Simple. To get more out of them, you can even wear multiple malas at the same time. I love how this looks. You get different textures and colours to compliment your style, plus you get the multi-dimensional healing benefits of the meditation malas. Make sure you choose mala beads that work well together if you plan on combining them.
Even though wearing meditation prayer beads is simple, there are a couple of things you should know.
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 it, you will want to cleanse it in saltwater. (You can read about how to cleanse mala beads below).
You might not want to let other people touch your mala beads either, because they can transmit their own energy to them that way. Whether you choose to follow these rules when 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 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?
How To Cleanse Mala Beads
You’ll definitely want to know how to cleanse mala beads because they will sometimes become impure, such as when you drop them or when someone else touches them.
Traditionally there is no prescribed time for cleansing mala beads. It’s all about getting in touch with your intuition. If you feel that you should be cleansing your mala beads, you probably should. There will be observable energy in your being that tells you when it is time.
Feel your mala beads. Ask yourself: are they creating the right energy? If not, it’s time to cleanse your mala beads.
Steps for cleansing.
- 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 results, 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 crystals for more on this]
How To Make Meditation Beads Necklaces Or Bracelets
Perhaps you prefer not to buy a mala but instead to make a meditation beads bracelet for yourself.
Making malas is a wonderfully relaxing activity, and you end up with a beautiful mala. Cheap. Personal. Handmade by you. It’s perfect!
Plus, it can feel more special to make prayer bead bracelets / necklaces instead of just choosing mala beads online. That way, you are part of the creation process.
Although it can take several hours to learn how to make meditation beads, it is worth it. Not only is it a delightful pastime, but you also get something unique and personal to you.
To make prayer beads, you will, of course, need to buy the beads. Remember to use our guide to the different gemstones, above, when you are choosing mala beads.
So, go ahead and buy mala beads. Go home. Put on some lovely meditation music. And get out all the items you will need to make your meditation mala.
Then set to it. Gradually. When you’re making malas, you should feel a deep state of Zen. Making a mala necklace or bracelet is a patient and relaxing activity. It’s all about the creative process.
Make the mala bracelet or necklace slowly, and 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.
How to make mala beads Video Tutorial
And that is pretty much everything you need to know about Buddhist prayer beads / malas.
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Benefits & Uses on Chopra , by Lena Schmidt, Certified Yoga Instructor