Mala Magic: The Significance Behind the Beads

Mala beads, the ancient Buddhist meditation counters, are now finding their way onto the necks and wrists of yogis, the mindfully aware, and fashionistas alike. So what are these beads and what meaning is behind them?

Mala beads are much more than the final touch to your yoga chic look; these pieces of jewelry have deep and spiritual significance.

Typically made of 108 beads, each one symbolizes the repetition of a mantra or Sanskrit prayer. Often, but not always made from rudraksha seeds, the idea is to hold each bead in your hand, starting at the center piece, and repeat your mantra once for each bead until you are back at the beginning. The result is a more focused and heightened meditation experience.

The significance of the 108 beads has several theories depending on your religion and culture. Buddhists relate the number to the 108 afflictions or kleshas. This same number is also used in Japanese New Year services where a bell is rung 108 times. For some the number is significant as it is said enlightenment can be achieved through meditation and only taking 108 breaths a day. Others link the number’s significance to the heart chakra, as there is said to be 108 energy lines leading to it.

The use of beads in prayer appears to have originated around the 8th century BCE in India. Some estimates say over two-thirds of the world’s population employ some type of prayer beads as part of their spiritual practice.

Today mala beads are on the rise in the Western world, providing a calling for the creative and crafty to develop mala beads for the masses.

Serena Sonny Sabourin, a local to the Whistler, British Columbia area and a mala bead creator, shares her journey with the beads:

Jane Emerick: How did you got started on this project, what drew you to create mala beads?

Serena Sonny Sabourin: It all started when I set my word of the year. My word was “create.” At that point I was a single mother working two to three jobs to support myself and my sons. I didn’t see them that often and this was not acceptable to any of us. I wanted to work from home doing something I loved that left me feeling excited. “Create” infused itself into all of my actions.

I started making mala beads for my practice. Meditation is something I have been drawn to since I was a young child. I was introduced to the practice by one of my mother’s employers, a Buddhist, at an early age. She left a lasting impression on me. Knowing that how we choose to think has a massive role in how our life plays out has always fascinated me.

Before I knew it, mala bead orders were coming in. I quit my job so I could fulfill them and spend more time at home being a mother. I believe we all can create and sometimes need a daily reminder to bring it to the surface.

Some say how these beads are created is essential to their power, what’s your creation process?

I do believe the true power comes from within the practitioner. However, that is not to say the beads have no part. Each bead is strung intentionally and purposefully and with mantra—always with mantra. Before I string the beads I cleanse them and my workspace and say a prayer.

What do you think about such a sacred item becoming somewhat mainstream?

The history of the mala is long. The mala is a tool. It is not exclusive to one religion. Perhaps not all who have mala beads are completely aware of their value and significance. But that doesn’t mean it will always be the case, people are learning more and becoming more educated.

Do you see the popularity of mala beads as a trend or something that will be around for a while?

I do not believe this is a trend, but rather it is an emerging tool that will prove very useful to many in our society.

I am continually amazed by the power people possess. I am forever inspired by anyone who takes charge and creates change. I have seen some magic happen and am so thankful to have seen it.  

Mala beads and meditation inspirations can be found widely on the Internet and through your local artisan markets. Here are some great resources: Maa MalaMala CollectiveJapa Mala BeadsSalt Spring Malas, and Ahimsa Om.

This post  appeared on Yoga Anonymous.