Meditating With Japa Mala: A Guide

how to meditate with japa mala

Japa mala meditation is a mantra meditation that involves chanting or repeating a mantra or phrase silently or aloud. The word 'japa' means 'to repeat or mutter' in Sanskrit. The practice of japa mala meditation is found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. It is often used in yoga and Buddhist spiritual traditions.

Japa mala meditation is performed using japa mala beads, which are a type of prayer beads. The beads are used to count mantras and are usually made of materials such as wood, stone, seeds, bone, or precious metals. The meditation involves chanting or repeating a mantra 108 times, which is the number of beads in a japa mala. The meditation can be performed seated, standing, or walking and can be done for at least 10 minutes a day.

Characteristics Values
Number of beads 108 beads, with one larger "guru" or "meru" bead
Bead materials Wood, stone, seeds, bone, precious metals, gemstones, or rosemary
Time of day Brahma Muhurta (1.5 hours before sunrise), noon, or sunset
Body position Seated, standing, or walking
Eye position Partially closed with a soft gaze, or closed
Mantra Chosen based on goals and intentions, or received from a Guru or teacher
Repetitions 108, or 10-1080 times daily
Hand position Held in the right hand, with thumb and middle finger counting each bead
Breathing Slow, deep, and relaxed


Choosing a mantra

Match Your Intention

The most important tip for choosing a mantra is to be clear about your motivations for practising japa meditation. Take time to reflect on your spiritual and material goals, and what you want to create, change or let go of in your life. Once you are clear on your intention, you can choose a mantra that aligns with the shift or change you wish to create. For example, if you want to cultivate more compassion and peace in your life, you could use the Buddhist mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum". Alternatively, if you desire more abundance, you could use the Sanskrit mantra "Om Sri Maha Lakshmyai Namah".

Consider Your Emotions and Thought Patterns

If you have been stuck in a negative emotional or mental state, consider using a mantra to help shift you out of this mode. Try to identify the source of your negative state, and then find a mantra that can act as a countermeasure. For instance, if you are feeling depressed, you could chant "Om Sri Ramaya Namah". Or, if you have been having negative thoughts about others, chanting "Om Tare Tuttare Ture Swaha" will help to purify your thoughts, words and actions.

Trust Your Intuition

When choosing a mantra, you can also follow your intuition. As you read through lists of mantras, notice if any of them stand out or trigger an emotional or energetic response. Pay attention to any mantras that invoke a sense of devotion or friendship.

Choose a Mala Mantra

If you are using a mala necklace, you can start by choosing your mala and then selecting one of the recommended mantras listed for that specific mala.

Qualities of an Effective Mantra

To ensure your mantra is effective, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the mantra easy to remember and repeat?
  • Does the phrase focus your mind and bring your attention inwards?
  • Does chanting the mantra create the physical sensations, emotions or state of being that you desire?
  • Does your mind feel clear and calm after chanting?
  • How energised and awake do you feel after chanting?

Experiment and Commit

Feel free to experiment with different mantras until you find one that feels right for you. Once you have found a suitable mantra, commit to sticking with it for a set period of time, even if you experience challenges or boredom. It is recommended to practise japa meditation with your chosen mantra for 40 continuous days to make it a regular habit and cement your intentions or goals.

  • Om: Considered the sound of the universe, this mantra is believed to connect you to the divine and promote spiritual progression.
  • So Hum (Ham Sa): Meaning "I am everything", this mantra helps you feel at one with the cosmos and connect with your true essence.
  • Om Namah Shivaya: This mantra calls upon Lord Shiva and is said to help with self-realisation and accessing spiritual states of being.
  • Om Shanti Shanti Shanti: This mantra invokes peace within your being and is also a wish for others to experience profound peace.
  • Om Guru/Guru Om: This mantra invokes a guru and pays respect to their role as a remover of darkness.

Remember, the most important thing is to choose a mantra that resonates with you and aligns with your intentions.


Holding the mala beads

The most common way to hold the mala beads is to drape the loop over your index finger and hold it in place with your thumb. The bead that sits between your thumb and index finger is the starting point, and you will use your thumb to "count" each mantra by touching the gemstone or seed and pulling the bead towards you as you complete the chant and move to the next bead. The index finger should be extended away from the hand and should not touch the beads.

Another way to hold the mala beads is to drape the loop over your middle finger, keeping your index finger separate from the other three fingers. This is said to be symbolic of the atma (represented by the index finger) moving towards Paramatma (represented by the thumb) by the vehicle of the mantra (the beads), overcoming elements of the material world (the three other fingers).

In Buddhism, there are numerous ways of holding the mala and it differs across traditions. It is commonly taught that the left hand is used, but sometimes both hands are involved in the recitation and counting process.

It is important to note that the guru bead, which is larger than the rest of the beads, should not be counted or touched and serves as a reminder to pause and reflect.


Breathing techniques

Breath control is a great way to begin your meditation journey with mala beads. Simply paying attention to your breathing can be a form of meditation in itself, and it's a handy one, as you can do it anywhere.

To use mala beads for breath control, follow these steps:

  • Hold your mala with one hand, allowing it to drape across your fingers so you can move it easily.
  • Place two fingers around one of the beads next to the guru bead. Traditionally, the thumb and middle finger are used, as some religious traditions avoid the index finger.
  • Complete one full breath (inhale and exhale).
  • Move your fingers to the next bead, breathing in and out once per bead.
  • Finish at the guru bead to complete 108 breaths.
  • If you want to do another round, just move your fingers in the opposite direction until you reach the guru bead again.

The breath should be slow, deep, and relaxed. Breathe slowly in and out through your nose. Use diaphragmatic breathing during meditation, feeling your belly expand outwards with each inhalation and contract with each exhalation.

You can also use mala beads in conjunction with a classical yoga breathing meditation. This method will help to slow your breathing rate and to focus and calm your mind. For this breathing meditation, you will hold and use your Buddhist prayer beads the same way as you do for the japa meditation technique. For this breathing meditation, repeat these four distinct steps:

  • Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, directing the breath into your low belly.
  • Pause for 1-2 seconds.
  • Slowly exhale the breath out through the nose.
  • Pause for 1-2 seconds.

For each round, either count each breath with each bead on the mala, or use one bead to count each of the four steps of the breath. Focus your mind on the sensation of each of these four steps of your breath as you touch each bead with your fingers. Whenever thoughts or distractions arise in your mind, turn your focus back to the feelings of your breathing and the touching of each gemstone or seed.


Counting the beads

Japa mala beads are used to count mantras during meditation. The word "japa" is derived from the Sanskrit word for "to repeat" or "to mutter". The beads are used to count mantras (Sanskrit prayers) in sets of 108 repetitions. The large "guru" bead marks the start and end of the cycle.

Hold the mala in your right hand and use your thumb and middle finger to count each mantra by touching the bead during the recitation of the chant. After each recitation, pull the bead towards you with your fingers as you move on to the next bead. The index finger should be extended away from the hand and should not touch the beads.

Continue pulling the beads with your fingers for each mantra until you reach the guru bead again and have completed 108 repetitions. If you have a bracelet of 27 beads, you will need to repeat this three more times. You can continue chanting for as long as you like, in sets of 108 mantras.

If you are using a mala with 54 beads, you can choose to turn the mala around and go back in the opposite direction until you reach the guru bead again.


The best time to meditate

Many people find that the morning is the best time to meditate, as it is typically the part of the day with the least distractions. By meditating first thing, you ensure that it actually happens, and you set the tone for the rest of the day. The world is also in a state of transition, moving from darkness to light, and the quietude of the natural world can be reflected in your mind.

However, meditating in the morning does not work for everyone. If that is the case for you, try making space for meditation later in the morning or at noon. Meditating at midday can help you to slow down amidst the movement of the day and create a space between the pace of the world outside and the pace of your inner world.

If you find that daytime is too busy for you, an afternoon or evening meditation may be best. The hours before and after sunset are another time of transition, and your day is either winding down or done. This can be a good time to pause and reflect, and you may find it easier to challenge yourself with your meditation practice. An evening meditation can also improve your sleep.

If you are meditating with japa mala, the most favourable time is said to be Brahmamuhurta, one and a half hours before sunrise. The second best time is at sunset, and the third is noon.

Frequently asked questions

Japa meditation is a form of meditation that involves the repetition of a mantra or chanting of a phrase while using a mala. The word 'Japa' means 'to repeat' or 'to mutter' in Sanskrit.

A mala is a string of beads used to count mantras. Malas usually contain 108 beads, with one larger guru or meru bead, but can also be made up of 54 or 27 beads.

First, choose a comfortable spot and sit with your spine straight and eyes closed. Take a deep breath and align yourself with your intentions. Pick your mantra and chant it aloud or silently. Hold your mala in your right hand and drape it between your index and middle fingers. Use your thumb to start with the guru bead and count each smaller bead, pulling it towards you as you recite your mantra. Continue until you have completed 108 repetitions.

Japa meditation is an effective way to reduce stress and calm the mind. It improves concentration, reduces negative thoughts and increases positive emotions, resilience and creativity. It also has a positive impact on your physical heart, reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke.

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