Japa meditation—the kind using mantras and mala beads—could be the key to finally loving meditation.
Photos: Mala Collective
If other types of meditation aren't clicking for you, japa meditation—a meditation that uses mantras and mala meditation beads—could be the key to really tuning into your practice. Mantras (which you might be familiar with as a sort of inspirational call to action) are a word or phrase you say either internally or out loud during your meditation practice, and malas (those gorgeous strings of beads you might see on your fave yogi or meditation Instagram accounts) are actually a way to count those mantras. Traditionally, they have 108 beads plus one guru bead (the one that dangles off the end of the necklace), says Ashley Wray, cofounder of Mala Collective, a company that sells sustainable, fair trade malas handmade in Bali.
"Not only are mala beads beautiful, but they're a great way to focus your attention while you're sitting in meditation," says Wray. "Repeating your mantra on each bead is a very meditative process, as the repetition becomes very melodic."
If you normally have trouble reining in a wandering mind during meditation, a mantra and malas provide both a mental and physical way to stay grounded in the moment. Not to mention, picking a mantra that's particularly relevant can help take your practice to the next level.
"Because affirmations are positive statements, they specifically help to interrupt the negative thought patterns we have and change them into positive beliefs," says Wray. "By simply repeating to ourselves, 'I am grounded, I am love, I am supported,' we start to take on those beliefs, and embrace them as truth."
How to Use Mala Beads for Japa Meditation
1. Get comfortable. Find a place (on a cushion, chair, or the floor) where you can sit tall and comfortably. Hold the mala draped between your middle and index fingers on the right hand (above). Hold the mala between your middle finger and thumb.
2. Select your mantra. Choosing a mantra might seem the most important decision in the world, but don't over-think it: sit down to meditate, and let it come to you. "I let my mind wander and ask myself, 'what do I need right now, what am I feeling?'" says Wray. "It's a really simple and beautiful question to spark some self-reflection, and often a word, quality, or feeling will pop up."
An easy way to start is with an affirmation-based mantra: "I am _____." Choose a third word (love, strong, supported, etc.) for whatever you need at that moment. (Or try these mantras straight from mindfulness experts.)
3. Get rolling. To use the mala, you turn each bead in between your middle finger and thumb and repeat your mantra (either out loud or in your head) once on each bead. When you reach the guru bead, pause, and take that as an opportunity to honor your guru or yourself for taking the time to meditate, says Wray. If you wish to keep meditating, reverse the direction on your mala, doing another 108 repetitions in the other direction until you reach the guru bead once again.
Don't worry if your mind wanders; when you catch yourself straying, simply bring your focus back to your mantra and mala. "But make sure not to judge yourself in the process," says Wray. "Bringing yourself back to your focal point with kindness and grace is important."
4. Take your meditation to-go. Having a mala with you can turn any period of downtime into the perfect moment for meditation: "For a public practice, I recommend contemplating a quality you feel is particularly significant or important to you right now and, while you're waiting for a meeting or during a commute, slowly reciting that word or phrase," says Lodro Rinzler, cofounder of MNDFL, a chain of meditation studios in New York City. And let's be honest, the beads probably look great with your outfit.
Head to Mala Collective for a free audio series to learn how to meditate and watch the video below for more tips on how to meditate using mala beads.