Updated: Jun 10, 2021
FIRST, WHAT IS A MALA?
A mala is typically a string of 108 “counting beads” used in meditation to count
mantras or chants. 108 is considered a sacred number in Hinduism but you can also
find hand malas with 27 beads or multiples of 9 such as 36, 45, etc. 108 bead malas
are the ones most people are familiar with as they have also become a yoga fashion
statement in recent years! There is an additional bead called a “guru bead” which joins
the beads into a circle to form a necklace or bracelet with the addition of a tassel.
HOW TO USE A MALA
A Hindu mala is usually worked by using the right hand. The mala is held resting over
the third finger of the right hand and the beads are brought toward you, one by one,
using the thumb. Each bead counts one repetition of the mantra. When you get to the
guru bead you do not count it, and you do not pass it; you stop there, mentally bow to
the guru, flip the mala around and start going back the other way. Each time you come
to the guru bead you awaken once more, then you turn around and go back the way
WHICH HAND DO I USE MY MALA WITH?
Because of certain cultural traditions in India the right hand is used whether you are
right or left handed. The Tibetans, on the other hand, have no such rules; they use
their mala in either hand, and with any finger.
In the Hindu tradition you can use any finger of the right hand to hold the beads except
for the first finger, which is the pointing or “accusing” finger; you do not want to use
that one! The reason most people use the third finger to drape the beads over is that
there is a nerve inside of that finger which is connected to your spine in such a way
that you are getting a little added benefit from the practice. It is similar to an
acupressure point, and it adds a little extra energy rush to the process.
A MALA ADDS ANOTHER DIMENSION TO YOUR PRACTICE
Doing a mantra meditation doesn’t require using a mala, but it can add another
dimension to your practice. Not only will you be silently repeating your mantra but you
could say a mala is a “kinesthetic cue device.”! Without it, you could get lost rep
ting your mantra, doing it mechanically, but when you suddenly feel the bead between
your fingers, it wakes you up and brings your attention back to the mantra. I also find
that it takes me just the right amount of time to complete my 30 minute primordial
sound meditation practice!