Japa Mala Beads – What They Are and How to Use Them

Just about everyone has heard about the amazing benefits that meditation can provide, from lower levels of stress and anxiety to developing a more positive outlook on life.  Anyone can reap the rewards of a regular meditation practice, and Japa Mala beads are a useful tool when meditating because they can help you stay focused and mindful.  Japa Mala beads are strung in sets of 27, 54 or 108 beads, which are used to count mantras (Sanskrit prayers), and include a large meru (mountain) bead that helps you keep track of where you are in counting your repetitions by serving as the starting and ending point.  

Background of Japa Mala Beads

Japa Mala beads have been around for centuries and date back as far as 8th century B.C. in India.  They are a staple in many cultures and religions, although they are called other things such as prayer beads, rosary beads and worry beads.  They are so commonly used, in fact, that more than two-thirds of the earth’s population use some form of these beads in their spiritual practice.  The beads are crafted out of many different materials, typically using a material specific to each spiritual practice or religion.  In Sanskrit, Mala translates to “garland” and Japa translates to “recitation”, and when combined mean “prayer beads for meditation”.  

Mantras

Mantras

Chanting a mantra during meditation is an excellent way to channel your focus, allowing you to let go of any other distracting thoughts.  Whether chanted silently or aloud, a mantra is a word or phrase that invokes spiritual qualities when praying.  When used in a yoga practice, however, a mantra is a Sanskrit word or phrase that can promote healing, alter consciousness or achieve desires and goals. You can choose a mantra for yourself or let a teacher guide you to the right fit for you.  A mantra is very personal, and you should choose one based on your intentions as well as what feels natural.  

How to Use Japa Mala Beads

How to Use Japa Mala Beads

The best way to use Japa Mala beads is to sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed.  Slow your breath and inhale deeply as you repeat your mantra while holding your beads in your right hand.  As you recite your mantra, use your thumb to count each mantra repetition by touching it to the bead and moving on to the next bead upon completion of each repetition, keeping you focused on nothing else.  As the starting and ending point for your mantra recitation, the large meru (mountain) bead is not to be counted or touched by your thumb.  A wrist mala has 27 beads and therefore requires you to repeat the process 3 times to reach 108 recitations by pulling the beads backwards and forward once more from the meru bead.  For those especially dedicated to their practice, the repetitions can be done in multiples of 108.