Stepping into a yoga studio, you are bound to see malas hanging around. As you hold a set of quality mala, you will immediately feel its positive energy permeate through you.
Mala is a Sanskrit word which means garland. The origin of the mala remains a mystery but it has been worn by many ancient cultures throughout the world. Malas are traditionally much more than just a decorative ornament as ancient sages of India started using the malas to aid them in their spiritual journey towards higher knowledge and spiritual insight, by counting breaths and chanting mantras.
Have you ever wondered why it has 108 beads though?
108 has always been a sacred number throughout the world. This number is significant in many traditions and cultures.
In astronomy, the approximate distance between the sun, moon, and earth is 108 times its respective diameters.
As above so below, there are 108 marma pressure points throughout the entire body, 108 nadis that form the heart chakra.
In the yogic culture, there are 108 Upanishads (ancient Sanskrit texts of spiritual teaching 800BCE), 108 Puranas (ancient mythology 400BCE), and 108 sacred sites throughout India. There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet and each has feminine (shakti) and masculine (shiva), summing up to a total of 108 alphabets.
The sarsen circle (Stonehenge) has a diameter of approximately 108.
The Mayan’s high temple of Lamanai stands 108 feet tall.
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, 108 represents the temptations a person has to overcome to achieve enlightenment.
The wu style of tai chi has 108 postures.
The yogic Surya Namaskar has a set of 12 postures traditionally done in 9 rounds to complete 108.
It is said that if you could slow down your breaths to 108 a day enlightenment follows, there are many more examples out there but these are enough to show you how magical the number 108 truly is.
A story in the Mokugenji Sutra goes:
King Haruri once said to the Buddha: “In recent years, disease and famine have swept my country. The people are distressed, and I worry about this night and day. Ours is a pitiful condition. The totality of the dharma is too profound and extensive for us to practice. Please teach me an accessible way to the dharma so that I may practice it and teach it to others.”
The Buddha replied: “King, if you want to eliminate earthly desires, make a circular string of 108 bodhi seeds and, holding them always to yourself, recite, ‘Namu Buddha. Namu Dharma. Namu Sangha.’ Count one bead with each recitation of these three.”
The translation to this mantra which resonates with me translates to devotion to awakening, devotion to the right way of living, devotion to all beings.
Quality malas are usually strung with 108 beads with 1 guru bead and a tassel which makes it 109 in total. The beads are hand knotted, spacing each bead with a gap that allows us to move through the beads with ease while meditating and incase if the mala ever breaks you won’t drop them altogether. The beads on a traditional mala use Rudraksha seeds or Boddhi seeds. Although they could be made of different types of wood, seeds, precious stones or metal.
The guru bead or the Meru bead (mountain bead) represents your guru who taught you how to meditate, the guru bead holds your meditation together. A mala without the guru will lead the practitioner astray (dizziness and confusion).
The tassel after the guru bead represents the lotus (enlightenment). Nowadays yogis would add essential oils at the tassel as an oil diffuser, some even opt to entirely replace the tassel with a charm that resonates with them.
A mala will absorb and release energy the more it is in contact with its owner especially when it is used in yogic practice.
Having a mala as a tool in your meditation adds another dimension (kinesthetic cue) to your practice, keeping you present and grounded, think of it as a rope that you can physically feel in your hands. That rope connects to the higher dimensions and assists you to get to a new height.
If you are in search of malas, maybe for yourself or as a gift, check out the shop on my site. I recently came back from Rishikesh India and I brought with me a couple of malas made of Rudraksha seeds from the Himalaya.