For exclusive access to all our stories, including sequences, teacher tips, video classes, and more, join Outside+ today.
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 part of this, with designers making mala necklaces that combine gemstones imbued with potent energies and sacred meaning to infuse your practice.
Yes, these beads are beautiful and a statement when you don them as a necklace. But what is the significance of mala beads? And how do you use mala beads in your meditation practice? We break it down for you.
Why do malas have 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.
“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 should start using mala beads. Here are her four simple how-tos:
- 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.
- If you have one, use a mantra for this practice, chanting aloud or silently.
- 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.
- If you want to continue the meditation, instead of passing over the guru bead, simply reverse direction and begin again.
As you advance in using your mala for meditation, try adding a deep inhale and exhale as you recite your mantra on each bead.
Why should you use mala beads for meditation?
Besides being beautiful and energized with the gemstones’ unique properties, using a mala during meditation can help focus your mind and your breath as you move through your practice. The act of rolling the beads between your fingers is a physical reminder of the intention you set at the outset, and prompts you to return to your breathing and refocus your attention when your mind wanders—and it will wander.
Think of your mala beads as a tool that can help guide you into a deeper meditation practice. When you’re not actively meditating with your beads, wear them around your neck or wrist as a reminder of your intentions.
Please note that we independently source all of the products that we feature on yogajournal.com. If you buy from the links on our site, we may receive an affiliate commission, which in turn supports our work.