Under My Thumb....or...What Is a Mala, Anyway? April 11, 2015 18:55



The Rolling Stones are slated to appear in Indianapolis on July 4 later this year.  WTTS, a local, independent radio station, just played “Under My Thumb” as a tribute and a reminder to listeners to “buy your tickets now.”  The iconic Stones have been around forever, and they are still rockin’ and rollin’ for their fans today.

Malas have also been rockin’ and rollin’ since the dawn of mankind.  Every culture and religion on the planet has incorporated rosaries, prayer beads, japa malas, or subha as a way to deepen their spiritual practice.  The materials, designs, and even number of beads may vary, but the common denominator is the same—to be still, to climb inside, and to connect with Universal Source, God, Allah, Shakti, Shiva, Spirit, Energy, Light….whatever name we choose to call that creative force that’s bigger than ourselves.

So, what is a mala?

 * Mala means “garland” in Sanskrit. It is a strand of beads used for mantra meditations, recitations, or chanting.

 * A mala is a meditation tool that contains 108 beads (although some contain 27 or 54 beads). Some malas include additional marker beads or counter beads, which are not counted as part of the meditation cycle. Instead, these marker beads function as reflection points or pauses, giving the meditator the opportunity to reconnect with his/her intention or focus.

 * The large guru bead (teacher bead/guiding bead) or pendant acts as the starting and ending point. However, the guru is not counted, and it is never crossed if the meditator chooses to chant/recite more than one circuit.

 * Malas (like prayer beads and rosaries) have been used for centuries as a meditation aid in virtually every spiritual or religious practice. You don’t have to belong to a particular religion or denomination to use a mala.

 * Some meditators prefer to wear their mala as it reminds them of their intentions or affirmations throughout the day.

 * Malas can also be used to decorate a sacred space. They add color and texture to an altar space or shrine.

* Some yoga practitioners wear their malas during practice or keep them on their mats to absorb the energy of their practice. A mala is a tangible reminder of the spiritual and mental benefits of their practice.

 * Use a mala to recite or chant a mantra, prayer, or affirmation for each bead in the circuit. Recitations can be silent, whispered, spoken aloud, or sung.

 Middle Moon Malas are hand-knotted between each gemstone bead, seed, or bead unit.  This allows the meditator to see and feel more of the bead between the finger and thumb while meditating.  Traditionally, full malas contain 108 beads.  Why? While open to interpretation, there are more than 108 reasons why this number is so significant.  Here are just a few:

 * 108 is a “harshad” number, which is Sanskrit for “great joy.” A harshad number is an integer that is divisible by the sum of its digits.  1+0+8 = 9.  108 divided by 9 = 12.

 * Any mathematician will tell you there’s power in numbers. One to the first power (1x1), times two to the second power (2x2=4), times three to the third power (3x3x3= 27), equals 108.

 * 108 energy lines or nadis converge to create the heart chakra—and one of them, the Sushumna, is believed to be the path to realization.

 * There are 108 qualities of praiseworthy souls and 108 stages along the journey of the human soul.

 * The number 108 connect to the relationship between the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. The metal silver is associated with the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108 (well, it’s actually 107.8682, but we’ll round up).

 * In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, there are 54 letters in the alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine form, Shiva and Shakti.  Consequently, 54 times 2 = 108. 

 You can sing, chant, whisper, or think the mantra that you choose to use with your mala.  Your mantra can be a traditional prayer (“Our Father”) or a traditional Sanskrit mantra (“Om gum ganapatyai namaha).  It can be a personal affirmation, a phrase, or a single word that helps you connect with your intention, purpose, or source. 

 You can use different mantras for the same mala, or, each mala can have its own mantra.  I am a collector of malas, and I tend to favor the latter approach.  One of my favorite mantras comes from Aibileen Clark, a character from Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help: “You is kind.  You is smart. You is important.”

 Mantras can be as personal and specific or as universal and general as you’d like.  They can inspire, uplift, instruct, or honor a concept, belief, philosophy, deity, guide, or ethical code of your choosing.  Each bead on your mala resonates with the mantra that you choose, and the repetition creates a soothing flow, allowing you to absorb and connect with the message more deeply.  Just like the lyric goes, and in meditation, too, “It’s down to me…the change has come…under my thumb.”