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The Meaning of the Mala

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I see both men and women wearing mala bead necklaces and bracelets. They have become a nice decorative accessory to modern day attire. But what does the mala bead actually mean? Have you ever wondered what these round gems, stones, and carved sandalwood strung together actually meant? A string of mala beads, sometimes called prayer beads, often comes in a set of 108, but you may also find them in sets of 18, 27, or 54. Malas are used for keeping track of your chanted mantras while in meditation. They are a tool, just like you might use a clock as a tool to track time, to help focus your mind on the meditation. One hundred-eight has been considered a sacred number in Hinduism and yoga. And in Sanskrit, the ancient language of yoga, mala means garland or necklace.

I really like this very simple idea: the prayer bead is a tool for meditation. It runs along the same intention of focusing on your breath while practicing yoga. The breath can be viewed as a tool or resource that allows one to stay tuned into their own experience while moving from pose to pose. It is so easy to be distracted by outside influences as well as our own internal thoughts and feelings. To help redirect the mind, and to focus with true intention, breath becomes that source for mindfulness. While in a seated meditation, another way to practice yoga, not only can one focus on the breath, but to stay present and not be distracted by time, one can use the mala beads. It is a beautiful and simple way to meditate. I like to choose a mantra (a short phrase or one word that I repeat out loud or in my head), and count each mala bead while I recite my mantra. There is often a guru bead or another bead among the string of 108 that serves as the beginning and end of your meditation practice. For a shorter practice, one can use a shorter strand of beads (like 9 or 18), but you can repeat the full circle of beads serval times for a full or longer practice.

So, if you were wondering what these prayer beads were all about, here's a short summary of how you can use them in your daily yoga and meditative practice.

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