What Are Mala Beads? + How Do I Use Them?

More than just beautiful adornment, malas are powerful and symbolic tools for meditation.
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More than just beautiful adornment, malas are powerful and symbolic tools for meditation.
Mala Beads mala collective

We love to wear our yoga, from tees to tattoos to jewelry that expresses our devotion to the practice. Malas, strands of 108 beads plus a "guru" bead traditionally used for meditation and prayer, are the newest trend in wearable yoga, with designers making mala necklaces that combine gemstones imbued with potent energies and sacred meaning to infuse your practice.

The Meaning In Malas' Traditional 108 Beads

There are many theories behind the significance of the number 108, which has long been considered a sacred number in Hinduism. Logan Milliken, who designs malas for Silver & Sage jewelry, says she was taught that the number 1 stands for God, the universe or your own highest truth; 0 stands for emptiness and humility in spiritual practice; and 8 stands for infinity and timelessness.

“It offers people a wearable reflection of something in their own journey, so in that way the mala really becomes whatever the wearer intends for it,” she says.

The Significance of Various Gemstones

Every gemstone is said to have different properties, energies, and meaning. Kelli Davis, of Kelli Davis Designs in Boulder, Colorado, likes to make malas with pearls, adding other semi-precious stones to empower the strands with specific emphasis.

 Mala made with freshwater pearls and labradorite by Kelli Davis Designs.

Mala made with freshwater pearls and labradorite by Kelli Davis Designs.

“Pearls are a great symbol for the grace we create, for the oyster creates its greatest work of art from an irritant. The decision to love even though it is sure to break our hearts, to meet challenge with our compassion is the yoga practice of life and makes it worth living,” she explains.

Davis agrees that ultimately, the mala becomes what the wearer wants it to be. “You engage the energy of the pearls and gemstones, with your prayers, your hopes, and dreams.”

How to Use Mala Beads for Meditation

We asked Jenn Chiarelli, the yoga teacher who leads Meditations & Malas workshops in conjunction with Silver & Sage several times a year, how a beginner could start using a mala. Here's her simple how-to:

  1. Choose a spot and sit comfortably with your spine straight and your eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths to center and align yourself with your intention.
  2. If you have one, use a mantra for this practice, chanting aloud or silently.
  3. Hold your mala in your right hand, draped between your middle and index fingers. Starting at the guru bead, use your thumb to count each smaller bead, pulling it toward you as you recite your mantra. Do this 108 times, traveling around the mala, until you once again reach the guru bead.
  4. If you want to continue the meditation, instead of passing over the guru bead, simply reverse direction and begin again.

See alsoWhat's the Best Type of Meditation for You?