Traditionally malas have been used for prayer and meditation by Buddhists and Hindu’s for thousands of years. Everyone can wear and enjoy malas whether you meditate/pray or not. Many people are simply drawn to the look and feel of the malas, the colours, the crystals, the energy of the beads or the sense of calm that comes with wearing them, and that is fantastic. If however you would like to meditate with your mala they are most commonly used with a mantra.
I have just finished an amazing book – Healing Mantras by Thomas Ashley-Farrand who shared the following insights into mantras. The word mantra is derived from the Sanskrit word “manas” meaning “mind’ and “trai” meaning “to protect” or “to set free from” So the literal translation or meaning of mantra in Sanskrit is “to set free from the mind.”
Mantras are actually energy based sounds. The power of mantras does not come from the meaning that the syllables or words convey but from the vibrational effect they create when they are chanted repeatedly. Words that are used in conversation derive their power from their meaning, however mantras derive their power from the energy effect its sounds produce. Chanting a mantra creates a particular physical vibration that creates “energetic effects” within the physical body.
Mantras, particularly Sanskrit mantras, also relate to our chakra’s. There are 50 letters in the basic Sanskrit alphabet and each letter corresponds to one of the fifty petals on 6 of our chakras, from the base of the spine to the brow. When a Sanskrit mala is chanted the petals corresponding to the letters contained in the mantra vibrate in spiritual resonance. This sets off a cascade of energetic effects within the physical body.
When the physical energy of a mantra ( the sound vibration) is also combined with an intention you can also increase, strengthen and direct the energetic effect of a mantra. An intention or the reason we are saying the mantra is carried on the physical vibration of the mantra. This is the essence of Sanskrit mantra.
To use your mala for mantra simply hold it in your hand and turn each bead using your thumb and middle finger, (the index finger is associated with ego and not recommended to turn the beads.) as you say your mantra. 1 bead, 1 mantra. Start at one end of your mala going all the way around the 108 beads, do not cross over the guru bead ( the larger pendant bead that hangs from the mala.) This bead is believed to contain all the accumulated power of the mantras performed. In Sanskrit it is called the meru bead meaning mountain, the meru bead becomes a mountain of stored spiritual energy.
Once you finish your 108 mantras and reach the guru/meru bead, simply turn around and go back in the other direction, without crossing over the guru bead.
Remember malas are designed to bring you a calmer mind, body and spirit whether you simply wear them, keep them somewhere special in your home or meditate with them.