What Are Mala Beads?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 15, 2024
3 min read

Malas — also known as yoga beads or japamalas — are necklaces that usually have 108 beads. Mala, Sanskrit for “garland,” is often used to enhance spiritual practice.

You may see people use malas while practicing yoga and meditation

Here’s what to know about using mala beads and how they can help your mental health. 

Mala beads have been around for thousands of years, created in India over 3,000 years ago. They are rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism and are meant to help you focus your mind during meditation. 

Mala beads traditionally have 108 beads. The largest bead, in the center, is known as the guru. It is said to hold the energy generated during your practice.

There are always 108 beads on malas. The number is often described as the numerical equivalent of “Om,” one of the most important spiritual sounds in meditation. Also, the relationship between your inner and outer environment is described by the 108 beads.

People who make traditional mala beads use overhead knotting so they’re stronger. This method also makes space for “japa” meditation, in which you repeatedly count each bead per mantra.

Mala beads have great spiritual meaning, which makes them an important piece of mindful meditation and yoga practices. They can have a big effect on how you approach your mental health by helping you focus your thoughts on finding your true inner self.

Mala beads are used in spiritual and mindfulness practice. They’ve become more popular in the U.S. along with things like meditation and yoga. 

But they're more than just trendy necklaces or bracelets. They have a deep connection to mental grounding and opening your mind to spirituality.

Meditation is an Ayurvedic and yogic practice. Ayurveda, a type of traditional Indian medicine, is called “the science of life.” In Ayurveda, mediation is thought to be a diverse technique that helps you achieve a greater self. Meditation also has neurological and physiological benefits. 

Meditation is meant to connect you to your deeper inner self, and it’s great for stress reduction. Regular meditation also helps you manage your emotions and attention span. 

Using mala beads can help you be intentional with your meditation and yoga practice. This can lead to:

Stress reduction. Studies have shown that regular meditation eases anxiety and depression symptoms. Meditation and yoga can also help reduce pain, which may be a cause of psychological problems. 

Physical health benefits. Regular meditation and yoga can also help your physical health by reducing your blood pressure, heart rate, and even cholesterol. Mindful meditation improves blood flow to your brain, which helps it work better and regulate bodily functions.

Less need for medications. Using mala beads in yoga and meditation can reduce your need for medications as you get older. Working on your mental and physical health as you age may prevent symptoms of future conditions. 

Cognitive benefits. Practicing effective meditation is good for cognition. Some studies have shown that meditation improves focus and memory. It also can help delay cognitive decline and dementia as you get older. 

Starting mindfulness early with mala beads and meditation can have lasting impacts later in life. Mala beads are a great supplement to your journey to a higher self. 

But mala beads aren't just for seasoned yogis or people who want to further their spiritual health. Beginners can use them as tools to start practicing meditation. 

Using the beads to count your mantras helps you focus and improve your attention. Certain mala beads are designed to make your practice easier. Different styles have different gurus or gemstones at the center.