Meditation and Malas

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a mala making and meditation workshop. It was led by Jackee DeSimone- a yoga teacher and entrepreneur from Hamilton. I met Jackee at the recent Toronto Yoga Show and Conference when I stopped by her booth, and we started to chat. She has the loveliest free spirit, and she’s a really nice person! I absolutely loved her workshop. Not only was it fun to make my own mala, but I learned some great things to add to my own meditation practice.

But first, what is a mala?

A mala is a string of beads used in meditation practice. Mala is the Sanskrit name for garland. It looks like a rosary and pretty much does the same thing. In Japa meditation, it is used to repeat a mantra or count breaths while passing the beads through the fingers. It can also be used in quiet meditation to slowly count the beads to calm the mind.

There are a few ways to hold the mala, but the index finger never touches it. The index finger represents the ego and will interfere with your practice. Simply hold the mala in your right hand and drape it over your thumb and middle finger. Starting at the bead to the left of the guru bead, use the thumb to pull the beads towards you as you repeat a mantra in your head, or under your breath.

All malas have 108 beads plus a 109th bead called the guru bead. Each side of the mala must be mirrored, and no more than 108 can be on the string. The guru bead represents the relationship between the student and guru. This bead is sacred and must be passed over when meditating. It isn’t touched, rather, the mala is flipped over in the hand so you can continue to meditate.

In our workshop, Jackee gave each of us a string of 108 rudraksha beads. Rudraksha beads come from trees and are actually seeds from something that looks like a blueberry. These are used in many traditional malas, but you will also find malas crafted from beautiful gemstones. The rudraksha beads were the starting point of making our malas. We were invited to choose from a variety of beads on the table to customize our malas. It was really fun to get creative with the colours and the guru bead. I could have spent all of my time choosing beads! But then I would have run out of time to actually create my mala.

While I built my mala, it was being infused with my energy and intention. My patience was certainly tested while I sat on the floor feeding the small string through each of the tiny beads, but it was so satisfying to see them all neatly lined up. I had gratitude for my fingers that could hold the tiny beads, and eyes that could see! I didn’t keep track of time or worry about messing up the pattern. I performed regular counts to make sure I stayed on the right track and if I missed a bead, I just went back and fixed it without angst. This encouraged me to bring these positive thoughts and affirmations into my daily life. Just like taking mindfulness off my yoga mat and into the world.

Once we finished our malas, Jackee spent time with each of us tying on the last bead, the guru bead. She also encouraged each of us to write down our own personal mantra on a card and keep it somewhere we will always see it to inspire us.

Now that I have made my first mala, I can’t wait to make another! I’ve already used my mala today to meditate and I plan to incorporate meditation off my yoga mat too. If you’re just getting started, I highly recommend Japa meditation because it’s easy to get the hang of it. If your mind wanders, you have the beads to bring you back to your mantra.

Check out Jackee’s website for more information on her Make a Mala workshops!

Have you tried meditation yet? How was your experience? If you haven’t, what’s holding you back?

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