For those of you who have never heard of mala beads—my goal is to educate and enlighten you on these mystical and powerful beads that have turned my life upside down and right side up.
Mala beads are prayer beads the have been worn for thousands of years in traditions such as yoga, Buddhism and Hinduism. They traditionally have 108 beads on them (plus an additional 109th bead known as the guru stone).
My first set of mala beads came from a Hare Krishna run yoga studio on the Gold Coast in Australia. I was living there while completing law school and sought refuge and escape from the stressful and boring lectures of Constitutional law classrooms to the exciting and magical world of yoga and the healing arts.
This studio particularly was also a safe refuge from the Bikram studio that had dominated my life for several months before–God Bless Bikram and his yoga style’s ability to put my body back together after an ACL tear turned me into a cripple—but I needed a softer, less boot camp style of yoga to connect with spiritually.
Along with these black beads I was handed a piece of paper on it written:
Govinda, Goppala, Madonna, Mohana.
I recognized one word—“Madonna,”and I had a feeling this had nothing to do with “the material girl.”
I have to admit that I was freaked out. We started reciting these words as we moved our fingers across the beads one by one. Had I just entered a cult? Were these words brainwashing me? Maybe I should go back to the Bikram studio where all I needed to worry about was “locking the knee?”
The teacher explained that these were not words—but rather transcendental sounds—the names of Deity’s or Gods that cleanse our minds, bodies and souls.
I was fascinated. This would be my introduction to mantra.
A mantra is comprised of words or syllables that are recited (or chanted) repetitively that can have a transformative affect on your life.
One very common Hindu mantra is Om Namah Shivaya which means “I bow to Shiva.” Shiva—being the deity of yoga.
A mantra could also be something as simple as a positive affirmation such as: “I choose to exercise regularly.”
For the next few years when I would be walking down with my friends to the local coffee shop for a Soy Chai or taking my surfboard for a paddle to lessen the hangover from the night before I would see this lovely teacher walking around our beautiful community of Nobby’s Beach chanting his mantras as he walked along the ocean side path serenely clutching his mala beads in pure Bhakti or devotion.
Though, I did take my mala beads along with me on my journeys, it was not with the disciplined practice of this Hare Krishna yogi. I simply wore them around my wrist from time to time to “look cool” or took them to yoga as a symbol of my devotion.
My curiosity about mala beads spiked a few years later when I got my hands on Elizabeth Gilbert’s overly famous book Eat, Pray, Love. The book itself is written in the format of a mala—the chapters broken up into 108 passages (plus one).
Along with falling in love with Gilbert’s story I became even more fascinated with the mala beads.
Near the end of my time in Australia I decided to sell all of my belongings and move to Bali for a few months. This was not a rational or well thought out decision, but rather a whimsical intuitive feeling that had me selling my car, surfboard, drum, quitting my legal placement and leaving my rental empty to the dismay of my roommates.
Much like how Elizabeth Gilbert did not want to be married anymore–I really did not want to be a lawyer.
For some reason I had to go to Bali. Perhaps it was the twenty or so people who kept telling me “Diana, you need to go to Bali,” or perhaps it was the magnetic-like pull I felt dragging my fingers to book a flight there.
On my Balinese “To Do” list was to come back with a Rudraksha mala. An unexplainable attraction had caused a mild obsession and wanting of calling a mala my own. Rudrakshas are sacred seeds that are grown in India, Indonesia and Hawaii that represent the tears or Lord Shiva and are believed to have many sacred and healing qualities.
After spending a few months in Ubud, the spiritual centre of Bali, doing yoga teacher training and a craniosacral therapy training, I was buzzing with an extraordinary amount of creative energy. This coupled with the presence of my ultra creative friend and superstar yogini Clare Merrifield, we started to create malas in our palm tree and rice paddie surrounded Balinese hut.
Now, since working full time with mala beads for over a year I have become a pseudo mala guru. I have been completely immersed in working with Rudraksha seeds, learning the history, traditions, differences, styles and stories of mala beads.
In the next article of this two part series I will answer all your questions about the specifics of mala beads and how to use them.
Diana Charabin is a yoga teacher who is currently not teaching yoga and a trained lawyer who is not practicing law. She is the founder of Tiny Devotions—a Canadian company that hand makes designer mala beads. She is part gypsy and part CEO and loves adventures, creativity and love.