A mala can be a very beautiful thing…or a test of patience and endurance, as Victoria Jackson discovers
Every time I go to any gathering of yogis there’s always someone wearing mala beads as a necklace or wrapped around their wrist. A mala is a thread of 108 beads used in meditation practice, kind of like a yoga rosary, where passing each bead between the fingers helps you track the number of repetitions of a mantra.
They can be really pretty, often made of semi-precious stones or coloured glass. I’m always a little envious of this look — kind of boho chic meets yoga studio fashion. I’m not sure I could pull it off as a style myself. In any case, I’m an annoying stick-in-the-mud purist when it comes to mala beads, since I learned traditional ways of handling them with respect or even reverence. The idea of keeping it to yourself as a personal aid to meditation annoyingly kicks in every time I think about incorporating the mala into my partywear — even if I know the other party-goers will be beautiful spiritual types.
But just because I don’t choose to wear them to a party that doesn’t mean I don’t love my mala beads. And actually I guess that’s the point: mala beads should be attractive. Meditation can be hard enough, so anything that helps draw you towards your practice is surely a good thing.
In fact I love the tactile experience of handling a mala so much that I’ve just threaded one myself for the first time. It took a few hours to tie a knot between each bead and then finish it off with a larger ‘guru bead’ and a colourful tassel. The act of doing this felt like a meditation in itself, needing calm concentration and a lot (and I mean a lot!) of patience.
And I had to let go of my habitual desire for perfection, because my first mala is, in truth, a bit messy. There are a few escaping ends of threads and the beads are not all evenly spaced, since some of my knots didn’t quite land where I intended. When I’d finished it, I viewed it with a critical eye, ready to focus on the flaws. But as soon as I sat down to meditate, all these concerns disappeared. My fingers didn’t notice the uneven spacing. Instead the mala string trickled through my fingers, the beads gently chiming as they knocked together. I settled quietly into the rhythm of repeating the mantra— and I let go of all thoughts about attending that yoga party! And the added bonus: once I’ve refined my technique a little, my Christmas presents are sorted for this year!
Victoria Jackson lives and teaches in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals as a vinyasa yoga teacher