How to Use a Mala: Step by Step Instructions for Daily Mantra Practice June 27, 2022 18:06
If you would prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.
I was recently at a Summer Solstice event in downtown Indianapolis, Monumental Yoga. I've been a vendor at this annual event for several years now, and in chatting with folks who stopped by our booth, I took the time to explain how to use a mala.
I'm always surprised at the number of yoga peeps who have malas--and wear them regularly--but who don't know how to use them. To me, it's like wearing an immersion blender around your neck--you have this amazing tool designed to transform and change aspects of your life--but you don't use it as it's intended.
Over the years, I would occasionally post short videos on Facebook or Instagram demonstrating how to use a mala, but I think it would be helpful to devote a blog post to this process as well.
My hope is that those who have purchased Middle Moon Malas over the years, and who will purchase them, will actually use them as they were intended.
The steps are simple and very straightforward, but a little review information might be relevant here.
A full mala includes 108 beads plus a guru bead and a tassel.
There are 108 reasons why the number 108 is significant--however, my favorite reason is that the number 108 is known as a "harshad" number. Harshad means "bringer of joy" or "happiness" in Sanskrit. A harshad number is a number that is divisible by the sum of its digits. For example, 1+0+8 = 9. 108 divided by 9 = 12. Consequently, the number is like a circuit--it comes around full circle--just like a mala.
I like to create knotted malas. The knots showcase more of the beads, and they also protect the beads from cracking and breaking due to friction. The knots represent the obstacles in life, and the beads represent the beautiful aspects of life--and we need a balance of both in order to have a full, meaningful life.
The guru bead (teacher in Sanskrit) or meru bead (mountain in Sanskrit) is the 109th bead and the focal bead in a mala design. It represents the master teacher, and deserves respect. The tassel represents one's connection to Source, and to each other. It is an important symbol of interconnection.
1. Hold your mala in your right hand. When making your way around the mala, be sure to use your right thumb and middle finger, or your right thumb and ring finger. Avoid using the index finger as it is connected to judgement and ego (we tend to point with this finger), and we want to keep the ego out of our practice.
2. Begin with the bead that is closest to the guru bead and to the right of the guru bead. As you hold onto this bead with your right thumb and middle or ring finger, think, say, whisper, sing, or chant the mantra of your choice.
I am a big, big fan of agency--so, choose a mantra that works best for you. It can be a classic Sanskrit mantra, such as Om Shanti Om. It can be the very famous Tibetan mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum. It can also be an affirmation, phrase, single word, or prayer. It's YOUR practice. Choose a mantra that is meaningful for you.
3. Make your way around the mala, one bead at a time, infusing each bead with the energy of the mantra that you have selected. Remember, each bead receives the full mantra--not individual syllables or part of the mantra. Take your time, be present, and enjoy the journey.
Note: If you select a really short mantra, and you decide once you've made your way around the circuit, you want to go around again, that's fine. Just be sure not to cross over the teacher bead or guru bead. Remember, the guru bead deserves respect, and you don't want to cross your teacher. Instead, go back the way you came, which requires a simple turn of the hand.
You decide how many circuits to complete. If you're working with a longer mantra, one trip around may be enough. But, it's your practice. You can make your way around the mala as many times as you like. Just be sure not to cross over the teacher bead.
Finally, if you're new to this practice, I highly recommend that you explore and stick with one mantra for at least 40 days. Take time to practice every day, for forty days, with one mantra. Maybe keep a little notebook handy to write down your thoughts and observations after each session, or at the end of each day--just a few quick notes. Then, at the end of the 40 days, take a few minutes to reflect over your observations and note the changes that occurred.
Personally, when I first started my daily mantra practice, I worked with a different mantra every 40 days for a year and a half. Keeping a small notebook for these 40-day cycles was extremely helpful for me. Then, when I found a mantra that I wanted to work with for a longer period of time (for example, I worked with the long Gayatri mantra every day for four years), this initial practice with shorter mantras for short periods of time proved to be extremely helpful. It also motivated me to keep working with the longer mantra over a longer period of time.
I hope this blog post is useful for those of you who may be beginning a daily practice, but also for those who are experienced practitioners.
If you're wondering about what mantras to use, these sources were extremely helpful for me:
Ashley-Farrand, Thomas. Healing Mantras: Using Sound Affirmations for Personal Power, Creativity, and Healing. New York: Ballantine Wellspring, 1999. Print.
Kaivalya, Alana. Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth and Meaning of Mantra and Kirtan. Novato: New World Library, 2014. Print.
I hope you continue to learn and grow from your own personal daily mantra practice. Please consider purchasing a Middle Moon Malas design to enhance your practice. I create one-of-a-kind mala designs, so the collection is always changing, evolving, and expanding. Click HERE to view the current collection.
Anatomy of a Mala: Why Each Part Matters May 2, 2017 11:41
I recently had a friend of mine ask if she should include a tassel on a mala that she had created. I explained to her that the tassel is an incredibly important component of a mala, and that I have never designed a mala without one.
Each aspect of a mala has a specific, significant role. Together, these parts create a holistic system and tool for generating awareness, bliss, and peace. Understanding the role that each part plays can add more meaning to your personal japa, chanting, or meditation practice.
A mala is much more than beads on a string. It’s a garland that doubles as a metaphor for life in our universe. Every bead represents a truth or principle, and over time, the beads absorb the energy of our focus and attention. Just as we infuse each bead with our intentions with each recitation, we create the life we live by infusing each moment with our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.
The Thread: "Sutra" is the Sanskrit word for thread or line that holds everything together. The thread or cord running through the mala holds and supports the beads. Consequently, it represents the Cosmic Creative Force that supports or sustains every part and every being in the universe.
The Beads: The 108 beads collectively represent the universe itself, but individually, they represent the beautiful aspects of life--the good times--beautiful sunsets, grandchildren, hot chai on a rainy day, loyal and supportive friends. These beads are arranged on a never-ending circle, creating a circuit of positive energy that drives life forward into hope and gratitude.
The Knots: The knots between the beads make the mala stronger. They prevent the beads from rubbing together and cracking over time; however, they also represent life's challenges—a flat tire, an uncertain medical diagnosis, the loss of a job or a loved one. These knots fall between the smoother, more beautiful aspects of life. They also signify the Divine link present among all beings in the universe. Though challenging, these knots remind us that all aspects of life are connected and supported in the universal sutra of life.
The Guru (or Meru) Bead: "Guru" means teacher, and "Meru" means mountain in Sanskrit. The guru or meru bead is often the 109th bead that is connected to the tassel, and it represents the state of transcendental consciousness or awareness, the central goal of meditation practice. In order to reach this supreme state of understanding, one must be brave and courageous enough to stay the course--perhaps completing many cycles, many repetitions along the sutra of life--encountering both blessings and challenges along the way. These blessings and challenges lead us to find our ultimate teacher and climb that intimidating peak of awareness one step, one bead at a time.
The Tassel: On a mala, the tassel is an extension of the string or sutra that binds the garland together. It represents our connection to the Divine (whatever that means to you) and the interconnectedness of all beings. It is a reminder of oneness and unity--that we are all connected--and regardless of the challenges that we face or the rewards that we reap, we're all really traveling together, and we have something beautiful to look forward to at the end of our journey.
Consequently, a mala is much more than a collection of beads strung together. It represents the compass on your journey as a meditator or practitioner, and it connects you to all other beings who are finding their path, in their own way, one moment, one circumstance, one bead at a time.
Visit our online shop for one-of-a-kind mala designs: middlemoonmalas.com.
Under My Thumb....or...What Is a Mala, Anyway? April 11, 2015 18:55
The Rolling Stones are slated to appear in Indianapolis on July 4 later this year. WTTS, a local, independent radio station, just played “Under My Thumb” as a tribute and a reminder to listeners to “buy your tickets now.” The iconic Stones have been around forever, and they are still rockin’ and rollin’ for their fans today.
Malas have also been rockin’ and rollin’ since the dawn of mankind. Every culture and religion on the planet has incorporated rosaries, prayer beads, japa malas, or subha as a way to deepen their spiritual practice. The materials, designs, and even number of beads may vary, but the common denominator is the same—to be still, to climb inside, and to connect with Universal Source, God, Allah, Shakti, Shiva, Spirit, Energy, Light….whatever name we choose to call that creative force that’s bigger than ourselves.
So, what is a mala?
* Mala means “garland” in Sanskrit. It is a strand of beads used for mantra meditations, recitations, or chanting.
* A mala is a meditation tool that contains 108 beads (although some contain 27 or 54 beads). Some malas include additional marker beads or counter beads, which are not counted as part of the meditation cycle. Instead, these marker beads function as reflection points or pauses, giving the meditator the opportunity to reconnect with his/her intention or focus.
* The large guru bead (teacher bead/guiding bead) or pendant acts as the starting and ending point. However, the guru is not counted, and it is never crossed if the meditator chooses to chant/recite more than one circuit.
* Malas (like prayer beads and rosaries) have been used for centuries as a meditation aid in virtually every spiritual or religious practice. You don’t have to belong to a particular religion or denomination to use a mala.
* Some meditators prefer to wear their mala as it reminds them of their intentions or affirmations throughout the day.
* Malas can also be used to decorate a sacred space. They add color and texture to an altar space or shrine.
* Some yoga practitioners wear their malas during practice or keep them on their mats to absorb the energy of their practice. A mala is a tangible reminder of the spiritual and mental benefits of their practice.
* Use a mala to recite or chant a mantra, prayer, or affirmation for each bead in the circuit. Recitations can be silent, whispered, spoken aloud, or sung.
Middle Moon Malas are hand-knotted between each gemstone bead, seed, or bead unit. This allows the meditator to see and feel more of the bead between the finger and thumb while meditating. Traditionally, full malas contain 108 beads. Why? While open to interpretation, there are more than 108 reasons why this number is so significant. Here are just a few:
* 108 is a “harshad” number, which is Sanskrit for “great joy.” A harshad number is an integer that is divisible by the sum of its digits. 1+0+8 = 9. 108 divided by 9 = 12.
* Any mathematician will tell you there’s power in numbers. One to the first power (1x1), times two to the second power (2x2=4), times three to the third power (3x3x3= 27), equals 108.
* 108 energy lines or nadis converge to create the heart chakra—and one of them, the Sushumna, is believed to be the path to realization.
* There are 108 qualities of praiseworthy souls and 108 stages along the journey of the human soul.
* The number 108 connect to the relationship between the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. The metal silver is associated with the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108 (well, it’s actually 107.8682, but we’ll round up).
* In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, there are 54 letters in the alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine form, Shiva and Shakti. Consequently, 54 times 2 = 108.
You can sing, chant, whisper, or think the mantra that you choose to use with your mala. Your mantra can be a traditional prayer (“Our Father”) or a traditional Sanskrit mantra (“Om gum ganapatyai namaha). It can be a personal affirmation, a phrase, or a single word that helps you connect with your intention, purpose, or source.
You can use different mantras for the same mala, or, each mala can have its own mantra. I am a collector of malas, and I tend to favor the latter approach. One of my favorite mantras comes from Aibileen Clark, a character from Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Mantras can be as personal and specific or as universal and general as you’d like. They can inspire, uplift, instruct, or honor a concept, belief, philosophy, deity, guide, or ethical code of your choosing. Each bead on your mala resonates with the mantra that you choose, and the repetition creates a soothing flow, allowing you to absorb and connect with the message more deeply. Just like the lyric goes, and in meditation, too, “It’s down to me…the change has come…under my thumb.”
To view our one-of-a-kind mala designs, visit: middlemoonmalas.com.