The Meaning of Mala Beads

I recently started practicing yoga again and I noticed that many of the students in the class were wearing mala beads. I’ve seen mala necklaces and bracelets, but never understood the meaning behind them. I was inspired to learn more and decided to share my findings. 

Mala comes from the word Japa Mala. In Sanskrit, japa is a prayer in which mantras are recited and mala means garland. This is how the words have come to mean ‘meditation garland’. Mala beads date back over 3000 years ago and have roots to Hinduism, Buddhism, yoga and meditation. Mala beads are used to keep the mind focused while reciting a mantra or prayer during meditation.

The main strand of mala beads was traditionally made with 108 beads. There are varying explanations as to why 108 beads are used, but it is widely known that the number 108 has been considered sacred in Buddhism, Hinduism, nature, astrology and yogic traditions. In yoga, 108 refers to spiritual completion. Breath work or pranayama is often completed in cycles of 108. Sun salutations consist of 12 moves and they are completed in 9 rounds for a total of 108. It’s believed that there are 108 energy lines that converge to form the heart charka. I was quite fascinated by all of the references to the number 108. If you’re curious, read a post by Wanderlust called, “108: Yoga’s Sacred Number”. The meaning that you attach to the number 108 is personal and varies between each of us.  

You will find mala beads that are smaller lengths such as 54 a (108/2) and 27 (54/2) beads worn as bracelets. Interestingly, all mala bead lengths are divisible by 9, which is also a sacred number in yoga.

Mala beads are usually constructed using a technique called “overhand knotting”. This is done to make them stronger and easier to move between the beads to count the mantras being recited. Mala beads are finished with a 109th bead and a tassel. The 109th bead is called the “Mother Bead” or “Guru Bead” and it represents the intention of your mantra or meditation practice. Lastly, mala beads are finished with a tassel that symbolizes oneness and represents the connection between you, the divine and others.

Mala beads are made with beads from a variety of gemstones or woods that are combined to promote an intention or to focus on a chakra. Most commonly they are chosen for their color, to bring something into your life or to enhance your meditation practice. This can be abundance, love, gratitude, peace or whatever you desire to create more of in your life.

“What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.”

Robin Sharma

Whether your mala beads are used in a meditation practice, yoga, religious practice or just to wear, I love that each strand means something individual to each person. We are all on the journey of life and sometimes we need reminders to keep us focused on what’s really important. Mala beads can be a tool to help guide us on that journey.   

This is a list of the resources I used to write this post.

Heather, “How To Choose Mala Beads.” Golden Lotus Mala,

Carolina Elinas. “The Ultimate Guide To Mala Beads.” Lovepray Jewelry, August 31, 2019,

Helen Avery, “108: Yoga’s Sacred Number.” Wanderlust,,yoga%2C%20nature%2C%20and%20astrology.&text=For%20the%20mystics%2C%20such%20numbers,108%20refers%20to%20spiritual%20completion.

“What are mala beads?”. Mala Collective,

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