Mālā literally means “garland.” Japa mālās are a string of beads used to count mantras. They have been used for centuries in India as a spiritual tool for meditation and prayer. Ideally, mālās have 108 beads. 108 is an important number in astronomy, astrology, architecture, mathematics, science, and elsewhere. The number is considered sacred by many cultures and traditions. You’ll find mālās with 27 beads. Counting four times around a mālā of 27 beads is equivalent to counting once on the 108 mālā.
Which Beads to Choose?
When purchasing a mālā, choose tulsi wood over the expansive, fancy gemstone ones. Tulsi is known as the most sacred plant in India and there- fore used for millennia by yogis for their prayer beads. Tulsi also has many physical healing properties. Touching the wood of tulsi is auspicious. If you’re looking for the mystique or the energy benefits of a gemstone mālā consider that those qualities are material, whereas tulsi offers sacred benefits. In India, tulsi is thought to protect its owner and the mālā of tulsi is beautiful, simple, spiritual, less expensive, and offers the mystique of a very ancient practice!
Using Your Beads
All mālās have a head bead that you don’t finger. It’s the largest bead and marks the completion of one round
of recitation. Many yogis count a fixed number of “rounds” every day. Choose a number that works for you and recite daily for the most benefit. Most people find it takes anywhere from 5-7 minutes to chant the maha-mantra.
Use your right hand, as the left is considered unclean. Hold a bead between your thumb and middle finger or ring finger (which is the cleanest finger), and don’t use the index finger. Most people find that fingering the bead by rolling it gently between your fingers assists medita- tion by focusing the mind and makes counting easier. But you can also just hold the bead, too.
Recite the full mantra on each bead and then lightly pull the mālā toward you to move to the next bead. When you reach the head bead, you’re going to reverse your direction by chanting on the bead you just chanted on and then move to next bead. In this way, you won’t pass over the head bead and your next round of recitations will reverse the direction you just chanted.
How to Store Your Mālā
Keep your mālā bead in clean place. Many place them in a sacred space when not in use or a japa mālā bag. The bag has a hole for your index finger, which helps keeping that finger off the beads. Be respectful of your beads. They shouldn’t touch the floor, your feet, or any unclean place or be taken into an unclean place like the bathroom.