Those strands of beads wrapped around the necks and wrists of fashionable yogis (and people who want to look like yogis) are more than an accessory. Take them off your neck, hold them in your hand, and discover the one meditation prop you’ll ever really want or need.
Standard japa mala, or prayer beads, come in strands of 108 beads — for the 108 names of Krishna — with a larger, tasseled “guru bead” used to mark the start and end of a full prayer cycle. (Wrist malas have 27 beads — you make four cycles to get to 108.) The beads can be made of wood, stone, crystal, bone, or dried seeds. Some people have several sets of japa mala for different mantras or intentions. I like simple wood ones. Find some that make you happy — but not so happy that you can’t stop looking at them, or feeling the need to show them off 🙂
If you’re familiar with Catholic rosary beads — which came into use after, and are likely descended from, japa mala — these work the same way. You move one bead with each repetition of a prayer or, in this case, a mantra. There are many mantras to choose from — more common ones are Om, Om Nama Shivaya (I bow to Shiva, a representation of the highest, truest self), and Om Mani Padma Hum (sometimes translated as “the jewel in the lotus”). The sound of the mantra — and your focus on the sound of the mantra — is more important than its literal meaning. The idea is to lose yourself in the sound, allowing it, over many repetitions, to transform your state of mind. What keeps you from getting totally lost are your beads — you might think of them as guide rope in a dark cave. Bring consciousness into your fingertips as you turn each bead in your hand.
To start, take a relaxed seat, hold the beads over your middle or ring finger, and move them one by one with your thumb, drawing the beads toward yourself. Begin one bead past the large guru bead and go all the way around until you reach that bead again. If you are doing more than one cycle, do not cross over the center bead. Instead, turn the beads in your hand and go back in the other direction for your next round. You’ll have the hang of it after a few go-rounds. (Learn more about how to use the mala beads here.)
I find that using prayer beads is simple, effective, and efficient way to find focus and calm. This is my favorite video on starting to use meditation beads.
I love how she keeps it simple — using Om as the mantra. And I like how she describes the ultimate aim of the practice: being happy.
~ Adam Bluestein