I’m on Gili Air this week with Amanda and, unlike Bali, the Gili Islands are predominantly Muslim, which means the call to prayer is sounded over the islands at 4:30am—the hour of Brahmamuhurtha. We got up with it this morning to meditate, do some pranayama & make the most of the sacred hour.
I chanted a round of Japa meditation with my new mala, made for me by Chant Malas.
Mala beads are cool accessories, but they have a powerful function beyond fashion and are considered sacred tools in Buddhist, Hindu and Yogic traditions.
Japa meditation uses mantra and a mala to focus the mind into concentration, paving the way for eventual submission to meditation. It was a huge part of our self practice during my yoga teacher training and it's now an important part of my morning routine.
Japa Meditation: How to Use Mala Beads
Japa is especially good for beginners to meditation, as it provides the mind with a tangible focus point & a short timeline for practice: one round of your mala is a lovely, accessible meditation that most people can fit into their day (and it doesn't have to be at 0430!).
How to do japa meditation:
Hold your mala on your right hand, with the thumb and middle finger on the first bead after the guru bead (the bead with the tassel attached to it).
For each turn of the bead, chant your mantra (aloud or mentally)—which can be as simple as the sound AUM (or om, as you might know it).
Pull each bead towards you as you turn it, & keep going until you arrive back at the guru bead. If you want to continue with another round, instead of crossing the guru bead, flip the mala.
Once you've finished your mantra, take time to notice the resounding silence—it should have extra potence following the sound of your chanting.
How to use a mantra for meditation:
Now we know how to use a mala and how sound is the architect of all creation, let’s talk about mantra, which takes sound, weaves it into language & channels it into intention.
A mantra is a sacred, transcendental sound or group of words believed by many traditions to have psychological and/or spiritual power.
Mantras can have syntactic structure and literal meaning, but they’re not the same thing as affirmations. ‘I am abundant’, for example, isn’t a mantra, it’s an affirmation.
Mantras can even be considered to be spells and are vehicles by which we can express the universe phonetically. I think of them as the audible versions of mandalas.
Mantras aren’t unique to any religion or tradition, almost every religion uses some form of mantra; testament to the historic understanding of their power. Think of Christianity’s Amen—remarkably similar to AUM, no? The very first words of the Bible read: In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God, & the Word was God. A nod to the power of channeled sound.
Many traditions believe a mantra is most powerful when the practitioner is initiated into it. I was initiated into mine during my yoga teacher training and have just finished the initiatory 40 days of 108 recitals of my mantra on my mala beads.
You can use a mantra with or without a mala. If you are using one and practicing Japa Meditation, recite the mantra on every bead. ⭒
How to Choose a Mantra
Some say the mantra must choose you — which is how I got mine.
My teacher, Rama recited it in class and I felt as thoguh the words of it unexpectedly smashed me (nicely!) in the heart with such remembrance that it brought me to tears. I think maybe I used it in a previous life.
You can also choose a mantra because you like how it sounds, because it has an important meaning to you or contains an energy you want to work with.
Aum, is a simple mantra you can use to ignite the universal sound of creation.
Be sure to pronounce each the A, U and M so you feel the sound vibration travelling up your body from the root to the crown this is (this is why it's not actually pronounced ‘om’), thus helping align the chakras and facilitating energy/body connection and upana (upwards energy).