‘Malas’ – what are they and how are they used?
‘Japa’ is part of Bhakti Yoga
Nishkam Japa’, where the focus is purely devotional, and concentrates on heartfelt repetition of the name of the Divine.
The practise of Japa Mantra is usually carried out in conjunction with the breath and a ‘garland’ of beads, or ‘Mala‘.
In Tantra Yoga the Mala represents the Psychic passage or ‘Sushumna Nadi’ and a special bead known as the ‘Sumeru’ symbolises the ‘Bindu’ the top of the Sushumna. The Mala beads correlate to the psychic centres through which the consciousness travels up to Bindu.
The Sushumna bead, sometimes called the ‘Guru’ bead, indicates the beginning and the end of the Mala. The Sanskrit word Sumeru translates as ‘mountain’ and represents a ‘mountain of power’ and the height of spiritual consciousness.
A bead is counted to correspond with each breath and Mantra repetition, however, the mantra should not interfere with the natural passage of the breath. Effortless awareness of the mantra is called ‘Ajapa Japa’. Once a full round of the Mala is completed, it is turned around, so that the last bead counted becomes the first bead of the next circuit. The Sumeru or Guru bead is never crossed over as a mark of respect to the Guru.
The practice of using a Mala
Or rosary, to count mantra or prayer repetitions have been used for thousands of years by Yogis and many other spiritual traditions in both the East and West.
The number of beads in a Mala is individual to each tradition. Buddhist and Hindu Mala are typically counted in cycles of 108 beads, though Half Mala of 54 beads and Quarter, or Wrist Mala of 27 beads are also used.
In classical Yoga, the number one hundred and eight is linked with many traditions and interpretations. For example, the number one may represent the Supreme Consciousness or Godhead. The number eight, the eight aspects of nature, (Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Nature, Ice, Light, Darkness). Whilst Zero represents the cosmos or Universe, the entire field of creation.
The Sanskrit alphabet is also part of why this number is so significant in yoga. The Sanskrit alphabet is comprised of 54 letters. Each letter in the alphabet has both a masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) energy. 54 multiplied by these two energies is 108.
The sum of the parts may offer more clues to why the number 108 is sacred. Both 9 and 12 have been said to have spiritual significance in many traditions. 9 times 12 is 108. Also, the sum of 1-0-8 makes 9. The number 9 cannot be destroyed, no matter how many times you multiply it or add it to its own number, it is the sacred Number of eternity.
Mathematicians have also noted that the number 108 has an elegant divisibility and geometry, producing endless patterns. It also is the hyper-factorial of 3, 3 being the strongest number, 3 sided shapes the strongest shape.
Each culture and tradition has its own approach on how to sue a Mala. In the Yogic tradition the Mala is held in the right hand, but if the meditater is left handed, it may be easier and less distracting to use the left hand.
Generally, the Mala is held between the tip of the thumb and tip of the middle or ring finger, and the thumb or middle finger used to turn the beads. Classically, and according to the ancient scriptures, the index finger or ‘threatening finger’ is not used to turn or touch the Mala.
The practice of rotating the Mala begins with the bead to the right of the Sumeru. One bead is fed back towards the meditater – towards the palm of the hand, with each mantra repetition. The Sumeru bead brings the meditater’s awareness to the completion of a round of the Marla. Because the Sumeru bead is never passed over, the Mala is turned around and practice proceeds again in the reverse direction.
The Mala can be held in front of the chest at the heart space, though this may be tiring and create tension in the shoulders. A special sling called a ‘Gomukhi’ can be used to support the right arm and also keeps the beads hidden from view. Alternatively, the right hand can rest on the knee or thing to provide support.
Mala beads are usually made of Sandalwood, Rudraksha Seed, Tulsi or Crystal. Each material has its own particular vibrations. Sandalwood helps to calm the mind and connects the base with the crown chakras. Rudraksha is the fruit of a tree grown in India, Nepal and Java and the only fruit in which the stone cannot be separated from the flesh. Rudraksha has beneficial influences on blood circulation, strengthens the heart and is recommended for those who have high blood pressure. Tulsi is a plant related to the herb basil and is used for its medical value. Crystal Malas are used for their psychic properties. Crystal beads can be mixed with Rudraksha to add more power. Likewise sandalwood and crystal beads make a good combination for a Mala.
The beads are separated by a special knot called the ‘Brahmagranthi’ knot – the knot of creation
Three strands of silk or cotton are used to thread the beads. Three stands provide extra strength but are also symbolic of the Hindu Trinity: ‘Brama the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shival the Destroyer. The three strands also correlate to the three Gunas or energies Sattva, Tamas and Rajas.
A Mala used for Japa should not be worn as decoration. During practise a Mala becomes charged with a particular energy. Wearing the Mala when not practicing Japa can weaken or disperse accumulated energy. Treat your Mala with respect and do not let others touch it…….
If you would like a Mala of your own take a look at some Hand Made Malas, Exclusive to Yoga for Harmony and made by Carrie Elliott. Click to see some examples available.
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