"These strings of beads are called japa malas. They have been used in India for centuries to assist devout Hindus and Buddhists in staying focused during prayerful meditation. The necklace is held in one hand and fingered in a circle – one bead touched for every repetition of mantra. When the medieval Crusaders drove east for the holy wars, they witnessed worshipers praying with these japa malas, admired their technique, and brought the idea home to Europe as rosary. The traditional japa mala is strung with 108 beads. Amid the more esoteric circles of Eastern philosophers, the number 108 is held to be the most auspicious, a perfect three-digit multiple of three, it’s components adding up to nine, which is three threes. And three, of course, is the number representing supreme balance, as anyone who has ever studied either the Holy Trinity or a simple barstool can plainly see. In any case, every japa mala has a special, extra bead – the 109th bead – which dangles outside that balance circle of 108 like a pendant. I used to think the 109th bead was an emergency spare, like the extra button on a fancy sweater, or the youngest son in a royal family. But apparently there is an even higher purpose. When your fingers reach this marker during prayer, you are meant to pause from your absorption in meditation and thank your teachers." - Eat, Pray, Love
I remember reading this in the book, Eat Pray Love, and loved how they explained it so simply, and made this thing, that can be seen as a weird long necklace thingy people in robes wear, into a simple yet profound tool for one's personal growth. Whether it is with yourself or God, they both go hand in hand, and the japa mala keeps you present in your meditation. Having something to do and personal mantra can help soften the 80,000 thoughts we might have in just one day. No wonder we are tired. It's not the physical actions we do, but it's the mental on hyper-speed.
Where To Get A Japa Mala
Japa malas are made with Rudraksha seeds, wood, and/or precious gemstones. I love Rudraksha seeds, and wood japa malas, as they are more grounding, and balance me more while I meditate. I am usually drawn to these earthy elements when I am looking for a new mala. The one I am currently using is a Sandalwood japa mala by Divine East. Divine East was started by two sisters, Sam and Danelle, after they studied meditation in the foothills of the Himalayas. They source everything from India and Bali and bless all of their malas in the holiest river in the world, Ganga, in Rishikesh, India.
They are so beautiful, made with love, smell incredible, and even compliment your outfit. Wearing and using the Manifest Sandalwood Mala is a constant reminder to pause, arrive, and breathe. The mantra I repeat with this mala is, I am Rooted.
How To Use A Japa Mala
1. Find a japa mala that you are drawn to or represents something you need.
2. Choose a place in your home that can become a mini-sanctuary for yourself. Choose a cushion or blanket that allows you to sit comfortably with your spine straight and gently close your eyes.
3. Begin by taking a few cleansing breaths to arrive and land for your meditation. Don't rush this part. Arriving is important and allows you to soften to your story.
4. If you have one, use a mantra for this practice, chanting aloud or silently.
5. Place your mala in your right hand between your middle and index fingers. Start at the bead next to the 109th pendant bead. Use your thumb to glide along the smaller beads, pulling it down to you as you chant your mantra. Full mantra = one bead.
6. Start by doing this for 3-5 minutes, and work up to 10 minutes. Eventually have a full japa mala chant, where you go through all108 beads with your mantra.
~ again, no need to rush. Enjoy each word, bead, and private moment with yourself ~
7. If you want to keep going, you reverse directions and begin the same chant again.
Check out my post about how I started meditation!