People buy malas with different plans for how to use them, and we believe any way you use your mala is the right way for you. You may have bought your mala for use in a specific spiritual practice, or you may just have been inspired by its beauty and not be familiar with the Eastern traditions in which the mala has its roots. It's your journey, and no one else can tell you how to travel. We strongly disagree with the idea that mala use should be restricted to those at a certain point in their spiritual progress or those who are working with a certain teacher. If a mala has found its way into your life, it was meant to come to you.
But here are the most common ways of using a mala:
1. Mantra meditation. More about this is explained below.
2. A tool to help focus on the breath in meditation. Meditating with malas doesn't require the use of a mantra: you can simply use it to help you focus on your breath. To do this, you'll want to follow the mantra meditation process described below, but simply replace the recitation of the mantra with a simple, mindful inhale and exhale.
3. A reminder of one's intentions. You might place your mala on an altar, on your yoga mat while practicing, or keep it with you throughout the day to help you manifest a goal or desire.
4. A healing object. Since the gemstones used in our malas have different healing associations, you may be using them to address a chakra imbalance or to work on improving your well-being. Or it may simply be a way of keeping a certain helpful gemstone close to you throughout your day. Being able to run your fingers over the beads can be very calming therapy for anxious hands.
Traditionally, malas have been used by Hindus, Buddhists, and yogis to keep track of the number of recitations of a mantra in meditation. If you're new to mantra meditation, we encourage you to give it a try for 1-3 months and see if it makes a difference in your life. A simple practice doesn't take long, and we once heard the Buddhist meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg say that the biggest change to your quality of life comes from simply starting to meditate every day. The minutes or hours spent each day don't matter as much as just taking any amount of time for a meditation practice.
Repeating a mantra aloud may even have some physical benefits. Scientists have noted that traditional mantras slow breathing to a rate that's optimal for heart health. Chanting also plays an important role in chakra healing, with the vibrations caused by the vocalizations thought to have various beneficial effects.
To do a mantra meditation, first you need a mantra, or a word or phrase that's meaningful to you that you'll chant aloud or think silently to yourself. Mantras are believed to have the power to fulfill desires, encourage healing, or alter your consciousness.
A few common traditional mantras are:
Ohm: A sacred sound that signifies the essence of the ultimate reality or consciousness.
Om Mani Padme Hum: A Buddhist mantra meaning "The jewel is in the lotus." This mantra is said to contain all of the Buddha's teachings. Use it to invoke the power of love and compassion.
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare: This chant is made up of the three names of the Hindu diety Krishna. It has been translated as "Oh Lord, Oh Energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your service."
Some people prefer mantras in English that serve as affirmations or simply reinforce something important to them. Here are four examples:
By changing my thoughts, I'm changing my world.
I am enough.
I am open to the abundance of the universe.
Or you may wish to choose a mantra from another spiritual tradition that's meaningful to you: there are many Hebrew mantra possibilities and some Catholics like saying Ave Maria (a mala can be thought of as a Hindu or Buddhist rosary). Whether you invent a mantra or choose from a list, it's up to you. Just make sure that your mantra aligns with your intention for meditating and with your mala.
Once you've chosen your mantra, here's how to do a meditation with your mala. You may find it helpful to check out the following three-minute video if you have trouble visualizing the process described below:
1. Find a comfortable place to sit. Traditionally, one meditates sitting on the floor in a seated yoga posture such as Half Lotus or Easy Pose. However, you can sit in a chair if you prefer. Feel yourself rooted to the earth and straighten your spine, imagining a line running from its base through the crown of your head. Relax your shoulders and think of your heart opening.
2. Take a few deep breaths to begin to quiet the mind and focus on your intention.
3. Hold your mala near the guru/meru bead or charm, laying it on one finger, with the charm or guru bead closer to you. Some traditions mandate that you hold your mala in your right hand, or that you lay the mala over a particular finger, but others do not specify a preference. Some like to have the mala rest on the third finger because there's a nerve in this spot that will trigger an energy boost; many others use the middle finger since it represents Karma. Hindu tradition mandates that you do not rest the mala on your index finger, since we use it to point and it represents the ego and blame.
4. Touch your thumb to the first bead and recite your mantra out loud or silently. After one recitation of the mantra, use your thumb to pull the next bead towards you. Recite your mantra again.
5. Focus on your mantra and the feeling of your thumb on the bead. If you become distracted, don't blame yourself and instead practice self-compassion. Getting lost in your thoughts for a minute is very common when meditating. Just simply note that your mind has wandered and bring it back to your practice, the way you might guide a small child where you need him or her to go.
6. Work your way around the mala strand away from the guru bead or charm. When you have gone through all the beads and are back at the guru bead, you may want to take a minute to pause and reflect or have a moment of gratitude.
7. If you'd like to continue your meditation, then reverse direction to go all the way back around again. Crossing over the guru bead is frowned upon.
It is said that once you have done a mantra meditation with your mala for 40 days in a row, your mala is now "empowered" and will bestow the energy provided by the mantra on whoever wears it or has it placed upon them. If you decide to change your mantra, you can simply go through the 40-day process again to change the mala's energy.
Using your mala may feel a little awkward and strange in the beginning. We advise patience. Learning to meditate is a lifelong journey, and no one's practice is perfect. If it's new to you, allow yourself to be a beginner. By spending just a little time each day, these steps will become natural and you'll begin to feel their spiritual power.
When you're starting anything new, it helps to have some guidance, so below you'll find a few videos that each leads you through a mala meditation.
In this video, holistic healer Dr. Linda Linker Rosenthal goes through a meditation using a Sanskrit mantra. Go to http://www.goodofthewhole.com/healing4others to get some interesting background about this mantra and her project.
This informal video has a simple yet challenging non-denominational mala meditation that will show you the possibilities beyond mantras. The video itself doesn't allow enough time to go through all 108 beads, so we recommend just considering the first time you listen to be instruction in how to do the meditation on your own later.
This is another informal video that will teach you how to do a popular mala meditation that uses the Hawaiian Ho’oponopono mantra. This mantra is a series of four short but powerful healing phrases in English that will help you break down barriers and ask for forgiveness: both from others and from yourself. Read more about Ho’oponopono here.
The YouTube channel Aquarius Era - Meditation Music has put out a series of videos containing music and chanting designed for mala meditation. Each video focuses on a mantra associated with a different chakra. You can immerse yourself in the music, join in the chant, or just use each recitation to move you through your own mala silently.
There are a wealth of other materials out there that will show you endless ways of using your mala, so this is just a small taste of the possibilities!