While mala beads are traditionally used as ritual objects that aid one’s personal spiritual practice, more and more people like to use them not only as a personal talismans and meditation tools but also as fashion accessories in daily life. Some yogis see this as a no-go and think that the use of mala beads for any purpose other than praying and worshipping is strictly proscribed. Correspondingly, many mala makers claim that genuine malas must be made in a certain way – knotted only at certain times (exclusively with traditional seed and wood beads, of course), blessed by the gods in sacred temples, and given only as gifts, never purchased for money. The idea of wearing mala beads as a piece of beautiful jewelry in daily life is incomprehensible and out of question for them.
Personally I’ve always felt really relaxed about the “fashion issue” in regard to how malas can be used and how not. In fact, I know many people who are initially drawn to the aesthetic aspects of malas and see them just as fashionable necklaces in the first place before they learn about their benefits as mindfulness aids. As a Western yoga practitioner who learned the craft of mala-making by myself, I am not so presumptuous to say that my malas are to be used exclusively in the traditional way. What’s the traditional way, anyway? Similar to yoga itself, there is no such thing as one universally approved and valid tradition that regulates which way of using malas is right, and just as people’s personal yoga and mindfulness practice develops over time, so does the use of mala beads. So if someone wants to wear their mala because it goes perfectly with their favorite shirt, or because they are totally into the modern hippie and boho style that’s so popular these days, that’s absolutely fine with me.
Whether or not you want to use your mala beads beyond your personal yoga and meditation practice is totally up to you. If you choose to wear it in day-to-day life, your mala can be a talisman and guide off the mat, a spiritual forget-me-not that helps you come back to your center in the midst of the daily challenges and reminds you of your intention in daily life. Either way, one thing I highly recommend to do with your mala meads is setting an intention into them. It is a wonderful and rewarding ritual that gives your mala a purpose for something you want to manifest in your life.
Setting an intention is easy to do. Basically you choose any goal you want to achieve (your intention) and energetically ‘seal’ it inside your mala, so whenever you touch it or meditate with it you are reminded of this goal. By focusing your attention on what you want to achieve, you naturally align the universe’s energies to help you turn your dreams into reality.
Start with taking some time to connect with your mala. Keep it close to attune to its vibrations and align and charge it with your personal energy. Wear it during the day and place it on your bedside table when you go to sleep to connect with it on a deeper, subconscious level. Use this time to become clear about the intention you wish to set. Ask yourself: What are you trying to manifest? What would you like to invite into your life? Or what would you like to let go of?
With choosing your mala you have already taken the first step towards identifying the intention that is perfect for you and your mala beads. Don’t worry about which intention “fits” your mala or whether the materials and colors it is made with support your chosen intention. While the gemstones your mala is made do have certain meanings that contribute to its overall energy signature, you don’t have to rigorously follow these “official” meanings. Rosequartz, for example, may typically be relate to self-love, but you can just as well use it to invite strength and clarity into your life if that’s what you associated with the stone. What matters is that you resonate with the combination of mala and intention. Even if you have no knowledge at all about gemstone properties and color energies, you can trust that you have made the right choice based on your intuition. Your inner voice reliably tells you what exactly is right for you.
When you’re ready to infuse it with your intention, choose a ritual that feels good for you. It can be as simple as meditating with it and visualizing all the aspects of your goal. Visualization is a powerful tool for setting an intention. It means imagining the desired outcome of a situation as if it were already reality. For example, if you want to cultivate more serenity and balance in your life, visualize yourself being totally calm and relaxed, maybe in a protective bubble of light, no matter what situation you encounter. Connect this feeling with the beads in your hands and let it flow into the stones as if you were charging 108 little batteries on a string with your vision. See the beads incorporate the energy of your intention in your mind’s eye. If you want to, add a mantra or affirmation as you breathe life into your mala.
A wonderful way give your mala’s intention a proper send-off is to use the four elements to strengthen its power. Each element is associated with typical qualities which can be utilized to augment certain types of intentions. The following rituals can be used both for intention-setting and for the energetic cleansing and recharging of your mala. You can choose an element that represents your astrological sign (e.g. fire if you’re a Leo, or air if you’re a Libra) or one that aligns well with the quality of your intention. Let your feeling guide you and feel free to adapt the rituals to your liking so that they really work for you.
Qualities to invite: Stability, growth, abundance, grounding, physical healing, strength, practical thinking, manifestation, focus, discipline
Earth rituals for intention setting: Take your mala outside. Go for a walk in a forest or across fields and grasslands. Let it soak up Mother Nature’s energies by letting it rest on natural surfaces like wood, grass, or bare earth. Visualize how your intention grows into your mala like roots of a tree grow into the earth. If you like to focus on a color during your ritual, shades of green and all earthy colors like brown, ocher or clay would be appropriate to enhance the qualities of the earth element.
Cleansing rituals: Place the mala in a little bowl with coarse-grained salt or sand. You can also place it in the center of a circle of natural materials or other crystals that are known for their purifying or energy-enhancing properties (e.g. crystal quartz).
Qualities to invite: Creativity, communication, community, curiosity, wanderlust, expression, new beginnings, independence understanding
Air rituals for intention setting / cleansing: Use a standing bell or singing bowl to immerse your mala in the acoustic vibrations it produces (sound is closely associated with the air element which is its natural carrier). Bless your mala with a pranayama ritual. Consciously breathe with it and use every inhale and exhale to infuse your intention into it. Visualize how your intentions fills your mala like a fresh breeze of air fills a room. The air element is best symbolized by colors like yellow, pastels or white.
Cleansing rituals: Hang your mala outside in a place where it can dance in a gentle breeze. Use a sage smudge stick (a classical cleansing herb) to cleanse your mala.
Qualities to invite: Assertion, strength, courage, determination, passion, confidence, transformation, protection, willpower,
Fire rituals for intention setting / cleansing: Practice fire-gazing, one of the oldest known meditation rituals that is known to have been practiced by in the earliest documented yoga practitioners of the Hatha lineage. Allow the the dancing flames to induce a meditative state that you can utilize to visualize and seal your intention into your mala beads. Colors associated with the fire element include all reds, vibrant pinks and shades of orange.
Cleansing rituals: Place your mala in direct sunlight and charge it with the warm energy of the sun’s rays. Burn some incense or palo santo (sacred wood) to cleanse and reenergize your mala in the fumes.
Qualities to invite: Emotional healing and wellbeing, understanding, empathy, intuition, balance, calm, renewal, spirituality, harmony, self-love, compassion, hope
Water rituals for intention setting / cleansing: Take your mala to the ocean, to a lake or a crystal-clear spring. Listen to the sound of the water splashing, gurgling and swooshing. Visualize how your intentions flows into your mala like a sparkling stream of energy. The water element is associated with all shades of blue, turquoise, azure and teal.
Cleansing ritual: Sprinkle your mala with fresh spring or ocean water. Place it in the light of the full moon (which is associated with the water element) and purify and recharge it with the lunar energy.