Since becoming a yoga teacher I’ve been asked what the ‘necklace’ or ‘beads’ around my neck are, what are they made of and how do I use them. Most recently, at a mini retreat with Ananda Spa we were presented with a gorgeous goodie bag containing beautiful rudraksha mala beads. I squealed with delight whilst others at the table were confused wondering what the big string of beads was. Now’s the time to shed ‘light’ on these beautiful spiritual malas and perhaps open up a whole new side of yoga for you <3
Mala comes for the Sanskrit word for ‘garland’. Mala beads are a meaningful meditation and mantra tool made up of 108 beads (or a denomination of that number). Why 108? Many reasons have been considered – see here. Malas can be necklaces or bracelets and are traditionally made of sandalwood, precious stones or rudraksha seeds.
Traditionally, you must wait to be given your mala beads and never buy them for yourself. They are so special for this very reason – it’s a huge privilege to earn your mala beads and a major part of a yogi’s spiritual journey.
My first set (see in the picture above) were given to me during my yoga teacher training course – they are made of beautiful sandal wood cleansed with sage so that they are pure to receive and contain only my energy.
My second set were presented to me in India from a local man I got talking to in the bizarre in Jaisalmer, India. He asked me about my sandal wood beads around my neck… where did you buy them? Why do you have them? Why are you wearing them? Why did you become a yoga teacher? Why oh WHY did you leave your corporate career to become a yoga teacher?! My answers seemed to please him and after quite a lengthy discussion to test me that I knew my stuff and my heart was genuine, he opened up a little box and presented me with the most beautiful delicate rudraksha mala beads – they were rare, elegant, small and would be expensive if he were selling them. He put them over my neck and told me as soon as I got home to keep them very safe and use them only for meditation. An astute salesman turned spiritual guru in the space of seconds! India’s incredible like this – once you uncover the deeply rooted spirituality of the people and the place there is nowhere else on earth like it. I’ll be writing more about this experience in for Chant Malas UK and their Once Upon a Mala project – stay tuned!
My third set I already mentioned – a rudraksha mala from a particularly good retreat goodie bag!
A little more of Rudraksha beads ‘The Eye of Shiva’
Hindu legend has it that Lord Shiva (the destroyer and creator God) went into a deep meditation for the wellbeing of the world. When he awoke he shed tears of compassion made up of Rudrakasha seeds from the Eliocarpus ganitrus tree. This is why the seeds are named ‘The Eye of Shiva’ and Shiva is often depicted wearing rudraksha bracelets and necklaces. Devotees of Shiva will meditate with a rudraksha mala.
Rudraksha seeds possess beneficial electro-magnetic properties bearing a unique and special vibration. When worn continuously and whilst travelling they can protect against negative energies having absorbed the wearers own individual energy. They therefore aid the yogi’s general wellbeing, lower their stress levels and help them to concentrate during their meditation. It’s also beneficial to bathe wearing the rudraksha to allow the energy to flow over the body but only as long as no chemical soaps are involved to interfere with the beads’ vitality.
‘Japa’ is the Sanskrit word describing the meditative repetition of a mantra or a divine name. Using their mala beads, a yogi will do this 108 times. The guru bead at the bottom of the mala tells the yogi when he has finished a cycle of Japa (either 108 beads or a denomination of that number).
The mala should be held draped over the third and fourth fingers so the thumb can glide over the beads. One never counts over the guru bead as that would be disrespectful. The index finger should not touch the mala as in yoga, this finger symbolises the ego, the greatest obstacle to self-realisation. Therefore, touching the mala is a humbling activity that strips away any sense of ‘I/Me/ego,self’ allowing the wearer to transcend their normal state of consciousness to become one with God and the divine.
Not sure what your mantra is? I’ll be writing a guide for this next month but for now unless something prevalent comes to mind just start with “I am enough”. Simple, true and something you should tell yourself every day! Don’t worry if 108 is too much, be patient and just start with 9 repetitions, maybe 18 the next day … and so on and so forth. Even if you don’t believe your mantra, after enough repetitions it will begin to sink in.
Japa meditation is a great tool to help us move into a peaceful and still place within ourselves. A place to return to time and again. Repeating sacred names or sacred mantras over and over assists the concentration of our mind entering into Divine consciousness.