A Mala is a string of beads used to count mantras (Sanskrit prayers) in sets of 108 repetitions.
A mantra is a word or series of words chanted aloud or silently to invoke spiritual qualities. Chanting is used as a spiritual tool in virtually every cultural and religious tradition. In the yogic tradition a mantra is a Sanskrit word that has special powers to transform consciousness, promote healing or fulfill desires.
The practice of chanting a mantra is used as a form of meditation. Sitting in a comfortable position, with the eyes closed, the mantra is repeated silently or aloud. The mind is focused on the mantra, the thoughts are let go of and the breath is slow and deep.
Hold your mala in your right hand (in India the left hand is considered impure) and use your thumb to “count” each mantra by touching the bead during the recitation and then lightly pulling the bead towards you on completion and moving to the next bead. The index finger is extended and should not touch the mala. The large meru (mountain) bead should not be counted or touched by the thumb and is used as a starting and ending point of the recitation. If you have a wrist mala of 27 beads you will need to repeat this 3 more times. Continue by pulling the beads and going backwards until you again end at the meru and continue until you have done 108 repetitions, or multiples of 108.
To empower the mala and the mantra used, japa (mantra meditation) should be practiced each day for 40 continuous days. When the mala becomes empowered it can be worn or lightly placed on oneself or others to transmit the energy of the mantra as well as the energetic qualities of the mala. When you use a new mantra with a mala, this energy becomes replaced, so it is recommended to use a new mala with each mantra if possible.
When not in use, store your mala in a special, clean and preferably sacred space. The best place to store a mala is on a personal alter or statue of a deity.
A mantra is either given to you by a teacher or chosen by yourself. When selecting a mantra, be clear on what your intention is, and use your intuition over your intellect. You may want to try out each mantra for a few repetitions to see how it feels to you and choose the one that feels like it fits best for you.