What are Yoga Beads?
The use of Yoga Mala beads as a device for prayer and japa meditation seems to have originated around the 8th century B.C.E. in India. Prayer beads or Mala (Sanskrit: mālā “garland”) are a traditional spiritual device used by Hindi, Buddhist and Yoga spiritual practices
Mala means Garland
Japa means Recitation
Yoga Mala beads are traditionally made out of different natural materials, native to the area or region and so different spiritual practices and religious traditions historically have used beads of a specific material. With the popularity of Yoga which was based in Hinduism, the use of Yoga Meditation Mala started to spread across the world with the increasing popularity of Yoga.
Yoga Prayer Beads for Japa Meditation
From the very beginning the original Yoga Mala has been changed with adaptations from the various users of Yoga and Mala. When the Romans invaded India, they mistook japa for jap, which is the Latin word for rose. Upon returning to Rome, mala beads were referred to as Rosarium and later became known as rosary beads in English when adopted by Christians.
More recently as Yoga started to spread to the west, it was predominately spiritual seekers that embraced Yoga as a form of exercise and then meditation. As Yoga grew in popularity, Yoga Mala was adapted from it’s original materials and changed to match the personal preferences of those who would be likely to be attracted to it.
Modern Yoga, as offered in health clubs and Yoga studios is often criticized by traditionalists as resembling Yoga in much the same way as Olive Garden represents Italian food. Despite it’s critics, modern Yoga whether in the form of boxing yoga, rave yoga, dance yoga, naked yoga or Bikram yoga, has still introduced Yoga and Japa Meditation to millions of people.
Yoga is not seen as a religious movement, it is often see as a spiritual one, with many controversy between traditionalists and modernist on the extent to authenticity. Most forms however include the adoption of the Japa Meditation practices as part of their spiritual growth. Most traditionalist accept that many Yoga practitioners will, at first be attracted to the idea of Japa Meditation and use beautiful (usually high priced) jewelry. But it is thought that as the persons spirituality develops, and they will no longer wish to use inspired jewelry for Japa Meditation and return to the traditional simple and natural Yoga Mala for use with Meditation.
What are Yoga Beads Used For?
Yoga is all it’s forms is about detachment. Detachment from the mental and physical, detachment from possessions and desires. The physical aspect of Yoga uses stretching and mental focus to remove ones self from the physical senses of the world. Yoga beads used for Japa meditation add a powerful mental practice and help aid removing the mental processes from the material world.
To this end Yoga Prayer beads have always been made with simple local resources, that have a mental and spiritual association with this purpose. Most notably wood, stone and seeds. The most famous type of Yoga Mala bead are the Rudraksha seeds Mala and the Bodhi Seed Wood Mala.
What are Yoga Beads
Rudraksha Yoga Prayer Bead Malas
Rudraksha Yoga Prayer Bead Malas have been used by Hindus as rosaries from at least the 10th century for the purpose of meditation and to sanctify the mind, body and soul. The word rudraksha is derived from Rudra (Shiva—the Hindu god of all living creatures) and aksha (eyes).
One Hindu legend says that once Lord Shiva opened his eyes after a long period yogic meditation, and because of strong feelings He shed a tear. This single tear from Shiva’s eye grew into the rudraksha tree. It is believed that by wearing the Rudraksha bead one will have the protection of Lord Shiva. The Rudraksha fruit is blue, but turns black when dried. The central hard seed may have 1 to 21 faces.
Bodhi Seed Yoga Prayer Bead Malas
Bodhi Seed Yoga Beads Mala have a special significance as it is said that while Prince Siddhartha was sitting under a Bodhi tree meditating, he became Buddha through enlightenment. Thus the Bodhi Seed Prayer Bead is highly prized as the Buddha Bead for obtaining enlightenment.
Bodhi in sanskrit translates to “enlightened” or “awakened,” therefore the bodhi seed means “enlightened seed.” Bodhi is also a term in Buddhism to reflect a Buddha’s understanding of the true nature of things.
Many Buddhist wear the bodhi seeds during their meditation practices to ultimately reach enlightenment. The seeds have a special significance to all seekers of divine wisdom not matter what form of eastern religious philosophy is followed.
What are Yoga Beads? The conflict between tradition and western new age
As the practice of Yoga has been changed with incorporation of the individual teacher or schools personal spiritual philosophies …. so too has the Yoga Mala for Japa Meditation been adapted. Most notably modern Yoga Mala beads are now created and sold by many Yoga studios and re-branded as Yoga “Inspired Jewelry”. Rather than the traditional materials (wood or Rudraksha seeds), whose purpose was to remind you of detachment from material and mental possessions – they are made with a combination of different gemstones and the various spiritual beliefs associated with the healing properties of those gems.
Traditional Yoga Mala was made from simple, native materials to remind the person doing Japa Mediation that the focused desire is detachment from material and emotional possessions.
Modern Yoga Mala (or ‘Inspired Jewelry), trends to include elements of the designers personal philosophies, including magical gemstones from around the globe with claims of additional benefits.
Why Are Yoga Mala’s Made Of 108 Beads?
The truth is, no one really knows for sure. There are many reasons given, and each reason seems to result with the number 108. Going back to the ancient Vedic culture, their mathematicians knew that 108 was the number of existence. In the yogic tradition, there are 108 Upanishads (the sacred texts), 108 sacred sites throughout India, and 108 marma points, which are the sacred sites of the body. There were 108 gopis dancing with Krishna in Vrindavan. This number is so engrained in the Indian consciousness that 108 is the telephone number for emergencies, like 911 in the U.S. In the Jewish tradition, 108 is a multiple of 18, which is the number connected to the Hebrew word chai, meaning “life, or alive.” And in Islam, the number 108 refers to God.
Thus, when we recite or recount number 108, we are actually remembering the entire universe. This reminds us of the fact that the universal self is omnipresent, that is the innate nature of the self
Uses of Yoga Prayer Bead Mala for Japa Meditation
Mantra and Yoga
In additional to the poses, Mantra is probably the main Yoga practice that characterizes yoga as a whole within its many different variations. All Spiritual yogic paths use mantras and have special mantras of their own. Special mantras and chants pervade the primary yogas of knowledge (jnana), devotion (bhakti) and service (karma) in which asana (forms) do not have an important role. Yet even in hatha yoga, and modern variations of Yoga where asana can be very important, mantra remains significant and is the main method employed to prepare the mind for deeper yoga practices.
The Yoga Sutras and its tradition of raja yoga emphasizes the role of the Pranava, (primal sound), as the main means of connecting with the Divine. The Yoga Sutras stress the importance of chanting and meditating upon Aum, which is the essence of all mantras.
The practice of yoga usually begins with the chanting of mantras–which may be mantras to the guru, to the aspect of the Divine one worships, or to the higher self–in order to create the proper atmosphere for teaching, or mantras to sanctify the ground on which one sits. Mantra grants sanctity and concentration to yoga, which otherwise easily descends into another form of physical exercise or a seeking of personal empowerment.
What are Yoga Beads Mala and Mantra
Focusing the Mind
The purpose of meditation is to still the mind and focus on obtaining a spiritual awareness, and keeping track of how many mantras you recite during your Japa meditation requires concentration and active conscious thinking. The mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions. One repetition of the mantra is usually said for each bead while turning the thumb around each bead.
This process is repeated and when arriving at the head or guru bead, the person meditating turns the mala around and then goes back in the opposing direction. Typically one cycle of Mantras is about 100, (sometimes 108) but generally what ever philosophy of Japa you are using, by the time you reach 108 counts you start a new cycle.
Storage of Power
The Yoga traditions believe that when a mala is used with mantra recitation, the power of the mantra enters into the beads of the mala, which become energized at a subtle level. The more often they are used, the greater their power becomes. The mala gathers and magnifies the power of the mantra, forming a sphere of energy and protection around us. It is based on this purpose of Mala, that modern variations of Yoga Mala have included non native (to India) component beads to make the Mala
Traditional Yoga Mala Vs. Modern Inspired Jewelry
Mala is considered a sacred implement that itself needs to be honored. Wearing a mala, it is not a matter for public display or a fashion statement. While a person can wear a protective mala at all times, they usually keeps special sadhana malas away from public contact, viewing or touch.
As Yoga has changed and been re-branded for mass appeal, practitioners of Yoga have started to make their own jewelry (or purchase for resale). These inspired jewelry make use of the cheaply available mass produced gemstones by Chinese factories to add some consumer appeal. In this way the designer of the Yoga Mala can add elements from Native American, Wiccan and other new aged philosophies making it a multi purpose Prayer Bead
Opinions vary from traditionalists to modernist as to the purity and power of the new aged yoga jewelry compared with the Yoga Mala. The modern jewelry can extend the purpose and use with a variety of additional intention qualities with the use of specific gemstones over and beyond the purely spiritual aims of Japa Meditation.
In the end, this has to be the personal choice of the person who chooses their Mala, stick with the traditional or personalize the Mala with additional purpose. Either way, the Mala must remain sacred and be treated with respect. If using the Mala as a show piece of fashion jewelry – it should no longer be considered a Mala used for meditation.