If you pay attention to your yoga teacher’s fashion choices—my personal favorite thing to focus on while balancing in dancer pose, call me shallow—you may have noticed a long, beaded necklace hanging from his or her neck. It’s not just there to complement the “Good Vibes Only” tank your instructor’s wearing; it’s called a mala, and its significance is actually more spiritual than it is sartorial.
“Traditionally, a mala is a long strand of beads used to aid in meditation practice,” explains fashion stylist-turned-shaman Colleen McCann, author of Crystal Rx: Daily Rituals for Cultivating Calm, Achieving Your Goals, and Rocking Your Inner Gem Boss. “It has 108 beads strung together and one ‘guru bead,’ which is larger than the rest.”
Focusing on a mala can help you drop more deeply into your meditation, especially if you’re someone whose mind usually pirouettes from your to-do list to your date this weekend to Friends trivia.
Yogis have historically used malas to concentrate during mantra meditation, starting at the guru bead and moving their fingers from one bead to the next as they recite a given word, sound, or phrase. Once they’ve returned to the guru bead, they know they’ve recited the mantra 108 times—a sacred number in yogic tradition—and the meditation is complete. (Yes, it’s similar to saying Hail Marys with a rosary—which also has 108 beads—although the Catholic prayer beads in general were thought to originate from Hinduism.)
Ultimately, focusing on a mala can help you drop more deeply into your meditation, especially if you’re someone whose mind usually pirouettes from your to-do list to your date this weekend to Friends trivia. And we all know how many mental health benefits can come from this kind of mindfulness. “[Meditating with] malas may slow respiration, boost concentration, increase well-being, heighten positive thought patterns, gather energy, and redirect the mind from daily chatter,” says McCann. “Or it can simply become a way to schedule a bit of quiet, alone time for yourself on a daily or weekly basis.”
Back in the day, people had to wait for their spiritual teachers to gift them with a mala—according to McCann, the guru would place it around the disciple’s neck as a rite of passage, a la getting lei-ed in Maui. But now, you can score one for yourself whenever you want, either by buying it or making it yourself.
The latter option requires a little more work than simply clicking “add to cart,” but knowing how to make a mala allows you to customize it however you want. “The possibilities are endless around mala curation, as there are a million combinations to choose from [when it comes to] color, length, and energetic properties,” says McCann. And unlike your trusty Outdoor Voices leggings, there won’t be any danger of accidentally twinning with the yogi on the mat next to you.
Keep reading to find out how to make a mala (and what to do with it once your design project’s complete).
Step 1: Decide how you want to use your mala
To get the most out of your mala, McCann recommends being intentional about its design—you don’t just want to choose its materials because they match your yoga mat.
First, she says, consider if you’re actually going to wear it around or if it’s mainly going to live at home. “Malas can be worn wrapped around the wrist, as a necklace, placed on altars, placed as a focal point at the top of a yoga mat, adorning a statue of a deity, or hung in the rearview [mirror of your car],” she says. “Basically, you should use yours in a place that feels good to you and your practice.” Why is this important, from a design perspective? Well, although traditional malas are made with 108 beads, you may find that length to be too unwieldy for everyday wear. If that’s the case, says McCann, you can make a shorter mala necklace or bracelet with 54 or 27 beads—half and a quarter of 108—and just count around it two or four times to make up the 108 recitations.
You should also think about why you’re making it in the first place. “Malas may hold special significance for the wearer based on where they got it, who gifted it to them, a special occasion (like graduation, moving, or completing something), the energetic meaning and powers of the chosen stones, and the energy felt when touching the beads,” says McCann. “Have a personal Q&A. Ask yourself, What do I want to cultivate in my life? What am I working on right now? What do I want to change or enhance? Be open to what comes to you. The response from the universe may come across as a thought, dream, vision, smell, color, or word.”
Oh, and if you have a specific mantra, or “japa,” you want to work with, you should reflect on that at this time as well. If not, McCann highly recommends choosing one. “The repetitive recitation of a single sound, such as om, or several words, such as om mani padme hum [“the jewel is in the lotus”] can be calming, grounding, and transformative.” And if repeating a Sanskrit mantra doesn’t feel authentic to you, McCann says you can always choose a simple affirmation in English that evokes what you want to feel, like “I am successful” or “I am loved.”
Once you’ve got your end game clearly in mind, you’re ready to move on to the next step…
Step 2: Choose the beads for your mala
While malas can be made from pretty much any kind of bead, McCann says that crystal beads make the accessory extra powerful. That’s because adherents believe that crystals vibrate at specific energetic frequencies that promote healing, spiritual connection, and positivity.
Of course, there are, like, a bajillion crystals to choose from, so it helps to be strategic. Think back to the answers you got when you thought about making your mala—perhaps you realized you’re looking to call in love, money, or more creativity or energy. Then, see which color (or colors) below corresponds with your intention, and choose crystals in shades that reflect what you want. “You can allow your intuition to guide you to certain crystals that embody the same type of ‘stone medicine’ you’re looking for,” McCann says.
- Red: power, desire, sexuality, and love
- Orange: happiness, creativity, determination, and success
- Yellow: personal power, vitality, self-esteem, willfulness, and energy
- Green: compassion, universal love, growth, and fertility
- Blue: peace, inspiration, and communication
- Purple: insight, knowledge, nobility, intuition, and higher wisdom
You can also choose crystals based on your dosha, your wellness goals, your personal astrology—really, anything goes. Just make sure you’re sourcing your beads from a sustainable, ethical supplier like Fire Mountain Gems.
Step 3: Make your mala
From here, you have two options: Either get a kit that includes your preferred crystals and instructions on how to make a mala with them—McCann likes the ones from Mera Kalpha Malas on Etsy—or go full-on DIY with it. If you decide you want to make your mala from scratch, this is how McCann recommends you do it:
- Beads (108, 54, or 27, depending on how long you want your mala to be)
- Waxed thread
- 1 guru bead that’s bigger than the other beads
- 1 tassel made from silk, cotton, or hemp—choose the color using the guidelines in the previous step
- Clear nail polish or super glue
How To make A mala, according to colleen mccann
1. Cut a length of cord—5 feet for a 108-bead mala necklace is suggested. For shorter malas, use a shorter amount of cord.
2. Use clear nail polish or super glue to coat a few inches of one end of the cord, let it dry, and then cut it to a pointed tip. This allows one end of the string to act as your needle and will make stringing the beads much easier!
3. Make a knot in one end of the cord. Leave a 5- to 9-inch tail, as it will be used to tie on the tassel.
4. String your beads. Pull a tight knot after each bead. This makes the mala stronger, and gives perfect space for “japa” style meditation. Plus, if your mala ever breaks, you will not lose your all your crystals! Continue this repetition until all beads are on the string. (Hot tip: As you string your mala, McCann says you can start infusing the beads with energy by repeating the mantra you’re going to use with it.)
5. After you have finished stringing the beads, knot the two ends of string together to create a circle.
6. Now, string your guru bead onto both tied-together ends of string. (Remember this bead needs to be larger and have a bigger hole) Tie another knot to secure the guru bead.
7. The tassel should be attached at the last stage of making a mala. Attach the tassel to the remaining string so that it hides the knot at the end of the guru bead. Secure the tassel and knots by adding a tiny drop of clear nail polish or super glue.
Step 4: Meditate with your mala
At this point, you’re probably tempted to snap a mermaid-pose selfie with your new accessory—but that’s not the point, remember? (At least, that’s not the only point.) Before you take your mala to the ‘gram, take it to the mat.
First, sit or lay down in whatever meditation position is comfortable for you and grab your mala. “In Hindu traditions, it’s advised to hold the mala in your right hand with the thumb moving one bead to the next while the mala is draped across your middle finger,” says McCann. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and bring your mantra into your mind.
“Hold the mala in one hand and let it dangle loosely while touching the guru bead with your opposite hand,” says McCann. Starting with the bead to the left of the guru bead, breathe in and out and mentally say your mantra. “Each bead gets its own inhale and exhale,” says McCann. “Continue until you feel the guru bead again. At this point you can stop your practice, or you can turn the mala around and repeat the process in the other direction.” (It’s considered disrespectful to cross the guru bead going the same direction, FYI.)
Easy, right? You might find yourself using your mala so often that the tassel gets a little unkempt, in which case McCann says you can dip it in water and comb it out, trim the ends, or replace the tassel altogether. Also, don’t forget to energetically cleanse your mala on the reg. “Like all other objects, especially ones made of crystal, mala beads are believed to absorb, transmit, and store energy,” says McCann. “I recommend cleansing your mala weekly or monthly depending on how often you work with it. You can use sage smoke or place it in the moonlight.” So much more magical than scrubbing down your gold ring stacks with a toothbrush, right?
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