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What’s a Japamala – And How The Heck Do I Use It?

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“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you”- Deepak Chopra

You’ve seen more than a few yogis wandering around – looking all calm and serene – with a gorgeous beaded necklace draped around their neck, right?

This beautiful piece of jewellery is called a japamala, and it ain’t just for show.

It’s also a sacred tool designed to be used during meditation practice; specifically, to recite mantras without losing count. Japamalas are absolutely incredible for helping us to boost our focus, and make our meditation time even more fruitful.

So what actually are japamalas?

A japamala is usually a strand of 108 beads (plus one larger-sized ‘guru’ bead) which you use to help you chant a mantra (a sacred Sanskrit phrase) – yep, you guessed it – 108 times.

The ‘guru’ bead is bigger to give you a heads up once you’ve done 108 chants, since we tend to meditate with our eyes closed. When you feel the guru bead between your fingers, you know it’s either time to close your practice off, or gear up for another round of chanting.

The beads basically work as a focus for our attention. Since it’s a physical, tangible object, it helps us to stay alert (as well as keep track of the number of mantras we’ve recited).

Meditating with a japamala is a super soothing way to tame our ‘wonkey mind’, and helps us to stop our mind from wandering during our meditation practice.

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Why 108 beads?

According to a number of ancient traditions, the number 108 is a pretty big deal.

In Hinduism, for example, the number 108 is sacred; with the number 1 representing God (or the universe, or collective consciousness, whatever you prefer to call it), 0 representing humility, and 8 representing infinity.

In yogic philosophy, our heart chakra (energy centre) consists of 108 nadis (energy channels). There are 108 chapters in the Rg Veda, a sacred Hindu text. In the Sanskrit alphabet, there are 54 letters with Shakti (feminine) and Shiva (masculine) energy – double this and you get 108.

The list goes on and on, so you get the idea!

Chanting a mantra 108 times totally helps to calm your nervous system, too, since it takes your mind off your worries and stress. Plus, the beauty of these beads is that you can use them to meditate anywhere, if you keep ‘em with you.

Choosing the right beads

Choosing the right japamala should be an instinctive process – you’ll likely be drawn to a certain set of beads, without really knowing why. This is awesome practice for learning to listen to our inner wisdom (y’know, that thing we’re always working on in our yoga practice).

A few particularly important sensations to pay attention to are:

  • Feelings of expansion, openness, and flushes of uplifting energy (i.e. your body’s signal for a big ol’ yes)
  • Feelings of flatness, numbness, or contraction (i.e. your body’s signal for a hell-to-the-no)

If you’d prefer a more logical – but still pretty woo-woo – approach, you can choose your japamala based on the healing and metaphysical properties of the beads.

Certain gemstones or woods can infuse different energy into your practice, so you can choose one which represents what you’d like to call into your life right now.

For example:

  • Tiger’s eye can bring abundance, prosperity, mental clarity
  • Sandalwood is calming, balancing, and purifying
  • Rudraksha represents protection, positivity, healing

Trust that the right beads will present themselves to you at the right time.

How to wear your japamala

First things first – remember to cleanse your japamala (e.g. with white sage smoke, sunlight, or moonlight, depending on the material) when you first receive it, so you can attune it to your energies and infuse it with your intention.

There are no rules for how to wear your beads – you can wear your japamala around your neck, or you can wrap it around your wrist a few times. Just be careful if you wear it during your physical yoga practice, as the necklaces can often be delicate and break fairly easily.

You don’t have to wear your japamala all the time, either. You could also leave it in your meditation space, so it’s ready for your practice – just remember to surround it with other items which give you good vibes.

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“Om:  divine energy, all that is…”

Mantras for your mala beads

A mantra is a Sanskrit word we repeatedly chant (either internally or out loud) to stop our mind from wandering.

In Sanskrit, man means to think and tra means instrument, so mantra literally means “thought instrument”. Cool, huh?

When choosing a mantra, make sure you pick one that feels easy and effortless for you to remember and chant.

You can use any mantra you like, but here are a few suggestions with (very loose) translations:

Om: divine energy, all that is
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti: invocation of peace in our mind, body, and speech
So Hum: I am that, identifying self with universe
Sat Nam: true identity, truth is my essence

If none of these call to you, do a quick Google search or keep an eye out for one which triggers a “yes” response in your body.

Alternatively, you can create your own affirmation in your native language – follow whatever feels good.

Japamala meditation practice

Once you’ve got your beads and your mantra, you’re ready to experience an incredibly soothing and grounding meditative practice.

Here’s a simple meditation to try out with your japamala:

  1. Sit comfortably and close your eyes, or lower your gaze. Gather your beads and infuse them with your intention.
  2. Choose your mantra, and either begin chanting it silently or out loud.
  3. Hold your beads in your right hand (the masculine “doing” side of the body) and, starting at the guru bead, use your thumb to count each bead, pulling it towards you as you recite the mantra.
  4. Continue 108 times, until you reach guru bead – when you reach the bigger bead, either stop or reverse direction.
  5. Take a moment to digest your practice, and set the intention to bring it into the rest of your day.
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