Meditation, meditation, meditation!
We’ve ALL heard how life-changing meditation can be by now – right? But how often are you practicing it?
Perhaps you have a strong daily meditation practice already, or perhaps you’re a dabbler. Maybe you know you *should* meditate more often but just can’t seem to get in to it. Trust me – I’ve been there.
Over the years I’ve experimented with many different meditation techniques, and I use many different types regularly. One of my most favourites that I’ve found though, has been the practice of Japa Mala.
Japa Mala is the practice of repeating a mantra, with the aid of beads to keep your count. Mala beads are an ancient Indian tool used by yogis to encourage deep states of meditation. The practice has roots in Hinduism and Buddhism and the term ‘Japa Mala’ is Sanskrit. ‘Japa’ means ‘to recite’ and mala translates to ‘garland’.
Typically, japa mala have 108 beads. The number 108 is incredibly auspicious in a wide variety of cultures and is said to be the number of existence itself.
- There are 108 upanishads (yogic texts)
- India has 108 Sacred Sites
- We have 108 ‘marma points’ or sacred sites in our body
- The Sun’s diameter is 108 times that of the Earth’s
- The Sun to Earth distance is 108 times the Sun’s diameter
- We have 108 lines of energy that converge to form the heart chakra
- There are 12 zodiac houses x 9 planets = 108
- Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter
- Hindu deities have 108 names
Pretty amazing, right!?
On a Japa Mala, typically, there is one additional bead called the ‘Guru Bead’. This pays homage the student-guru relationship. Often a japa mala necklace will have a tassel at the end which signifies everything coming together as one and represents our connection to each other and the divine.
To get started with a Japa Mala meditation, first you’ll need get yourself some beads or a japa mala necklace. You can find ready made ones in various shops instore and online – but you must ensure they have 108 plus the guru bead. Many shops who aren’t familiar with the history and tradition of mala beads won’t bother counting the number of beads. Any other number, and it’s not quite as potent. Remember, 108 is the magic number.
To make your practice even more symbolic and meaningful, I highly recommend taking the time to string your very own japa mala. Yes, this will take a bit of planning, materials and time – but it will allow you to really infuse your new meditation tool with your personal mantra and intention. This is incredibly powerful.
Next, you want to choose a mantra or intention to repeat. You can choose a different mantra each time you use your mala, depending on what you’re working on in yourself at the time. It is also incredibly potent to repeat the same mantra for a set number of days as part of a personal sadhana (daily spiritual practice).
Affirmation vs Mantra
You might like to say an affirmation or state an intention about something you would like to bring in to your life, or perhaps a personal limiting belief you are working to shift. It’s important that your affirmations are always in the positive, present tense – as though they are true in the present moment. For example, instead of saying something like “I don’t want to be self-conscious anymore” try saying “I am confident and worthy as I am”.
The word mantra is Sanskrit, ‘man’ means mind and ’tra’ means vehicle. In other words, mantra is a tool of the mind that you can use to enter deep states of meditation There are many amazing traditional Sanskrit mantras that you can use. Sanskrit is a vibrational language and repeating the words will have a profound effect, regardless of whether you know the translation or not. However, in the spirit of honouring and respecting the roots of yoga and the Sanskrit language (and to make them all the more potent for you), be sure to take the time to learn the meanings and history behind the words you’re chanting.
Once you’ve chosen your preferred mantra of affirmation, take some time to set yourself up in your sacred space, close down your eyes, take some deep, grounding breaths and begin to repeat your words as you gently move from bead to bead.
How to hold a Japa Mala
I have been taught two different ways of holding my mala from different teachers and will share my preferred way. If you’ve learnt another way that you prefer, go for it.
- It’s important that your mala doesn’t touch the ground. Remember, it’s a sacred tool.
- Hold the beads in your left hand and with your right, pick up one end of the string/necklace. I was taught not to use your index (pointer) finger at all and to instead keep it raised and out of the way. The index finger is said to represent the ego, and as such we don’t want it involved in our meditation practice.
- Drape the beads over your pinky, ring and middle fingers, with the pointer out of the way
- Use your thumb to gently guide the beads down as you repeat your mantra
- The beads should end up back in your left hand as you move through the chain
- The guru bead is generally the last bead which is slightly larger that indicates when you’re done
Once you have moved through your mala and repeated your mantra 108 times, be sure to sit in silence and stillness for a while to soak in the energy and vibration generated by your meditation.
I hope you enjoy this style of meditation. It’s one that really allows me to drop in, focus and dive deep into my meditation practice. I’d love to hear your experience with this.
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