A mala is a string of a varying number of beads and one central bead. They are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a deity. It is a tool used to keep the mind on your meditation practice.
Malas are generally made from different materials such as rosewood, sandalwood, lotus seeds or bodhi seeds to name a few. Each type of material has certain properties which subtly affect the subconscious mind of the practitioner.
Meditation can be quite a tricky practice because the mind is like a naughty child. By its very nature, the mind tends to wander off during the meditation practice. If one’s energy is low at the time of meditation, falling asleep can result. If energy is too high, fantasy and distraction become the barriers. At such times, the mala provides the much needed anchor. The mala beads are moved in rhythm with the breath and the mantra, so that both sleep-as well as excessive mental distraction-are prevented by this action upon the beads.
A personal mala is a wonderful accessory to meditation, which when used regularly with a personal mantra, absorbs the vibrations of the practice. It becomes like a close friend or a comfortable piece of clothing. There are different ways to “tell the beads” depending on your tradition, be it Hindu, Buddhist or some other way. In general, the practice begins at the larger or head bead or guru bead and continues around the loop until that bead is reached again. That guru three holed bead is never passed over.
So if you plan to do more than one round, the mala is turned around to proceed again in the reverse direction. After a while of practicing your meditation or mantras with a mala, whenever it is taken up, it automatically conditions the mind to the meditative state.