When I first opened my yoga studio in 2007 and started teaching yoga and meditation, few of my student had ever seen a mala. Today, they are integrated into pop culture for fashion, but few people actually know how to use them aside from a funky outfit accessory.
If you struggle with meditation and are seeking an easy way to begin, mala beads may be the answer.
A mala is a string of beads, sometimes separated by tiny knots. Traditionally the beads were made of sandalwood or hard, round seeds, but today you can find them made from various types of wood, crystals, or gemstones.
A standard string has 108 beads plus one additional distinct bead or tag, so you can mark the beginning and the end of the circle.
Mala bracelets are also popular and may have 18, 27, or 54 beads.
Malas are a meditation tool. Each bead on the string is one inhale and exhale, one breath per bead, or one word or phrase of a chant, mantra, or prayer. (Similar to Catholic Rosary beads.)
Sit quietly and comfortably. I recommend sitting in a chair with your feet touching the floor if you are new to meditation. If your feet can’t touch the floor, stack pillows on the floor until the bottoms of your feet can press down firmly. This will help you stay grounded which makes settling your thoughts easier. If you suffer from tight hips or chronic back pain, you will also be more comfortable and less likely to quit from physical discomfort!
Hold the mala in your hands and close your eyes.
Start at the distinctly tagged bead on the mala and use the tips of your fingers to focus on one bead per breath, and inhale and exhale through your nose.
Work your way around the full string until you reach the tag where you began.
Expect one mala of 108 beads and 108 breathes to take about 18 minutes to complete.
Meditating with mala beads is actually how I set a regular meditation practice for myself that I maintained daily for over 2 years. This was before smartphones, before apps, and meditation timers and meditation meetup groups with accountability.
All I had was myself, a string of unpolished and unglamorous beads and a strong desire to change my life. I was lonely, depressed, and searching for answers to help me find home in my own skin again.
Mala bead meditation connects the mind to the breath and the body in a winning trifecta I found so powerful, that not only did I easily carve out time to sit for 20 minutes daily, I actually looked forward to it.
Do you have mala beads decorating your outfit or dresser that are secretly longing to fulfill their true purpose?
It’s ok. Maybe you didn’t understand how to use them because while images of mala beads are mainstream across the internet and in yoga studios, clear instructing for how to meditate using them is much harder to find. And you have to know to start looking!
When I began, I was unsure of myself and uncomfortable in the mala meditation process. I actually felt a little bit silly. It was weird. I thought I was strange for wanting to try it. I told no-one and just started alone in my apartment, on a clandestine mission supported by a living room chair and armed with a string of simple sandalwood beads I’d picked up cheap at a Tibetan goods store in Manhattan.
My biggest discipline became pushing through the emotional hurdle of just doing it every day despite all the excuses I found like no time, it’s too strange, it’s not working, or maybe this just isn’t for me.
I pressed forward and stayed committed anyway. Building a new discipline is never easy, but I was isolated and depressed at this time in my life, so learning to enjoy my own company became really important to me, and finding escape from self-doubt was worth a little discomfort.
I aimed to meditate at the same time every day to help me build the habit.
I ignored the initial agitation that inevitably arrived with the first few beads of breaths. Since I knew exactly how long it would take, I planned the 20 minutes into my morning routine to check this off of my to-do list first thing.
I sat. I held a bead in my fingertips. I inhaled and exhaled.
At first, my mind wandered everywhere in between that inhale and exhale. It's amazing how quickly the mind can reach a million different places across time and space.
And then slowly, all I did was inhale and exhale. My thoughts dissolved and I experienced only the free open space between the inhale and exhale.
It took about 90 days or for this transformation.
After two years, one morning, my mala broke, spilling the beads into my hands. I thought to myself — I graduated!
The mala is a tool to help you enter zen, quiet your thoughts and step into peace. I no longer need this tool to get me there. I can now sit in meditation without the beads and find the same connection to body, breath, and mind.
I believe you can too. Nothing sets me apart from you expect maybe a willingness to get started and a determination to keep going despite obstacles like timing, discomfort, mindset, or willpower.
I challenge you to meditate with mala beads for 90 days.
I’ve lost count of how many times a new idea or answer has sprang into my clear mind during meditation. I honestly do my best thinking when I’m not thinking and just meditating!
I’m excited for you to experience all of this and more through 90 days of mala meditation.