A mala consists of 108 beads strung together and a guru bead connecting the two ends together. The beads can be linked together, separated by knots or have spacer beads in between; however, spacer beads do not count towards the overall count of 108. Dangling from the guru bead you will often find a tassel, knot or pendent.
What is the significance of 108?
It is believed that 108 is a mystical number when it comes to geometry, astrometry and even when it comes to our physical bodies! There is said to be 108 energy lines leading to our heart chakra. It is believed that we tell 108 lies in our lifetime. The distance between the Earth and Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance between the Earth and Moon is 108 times the diameter of the Moon. Japanese ring a bell 108 times at the start of the new year. Some yogis do 108 sun salutations to bring in the changing of the seasons. It is believed that you have 108 lifetimes to get rid of your ego and fix your mistakes. Hindu deities have 108 names. A last example, oddly enough— a leap year displays 366 days, and 3 x 6 x 6 gives 108. If you do research, you will see that this number comes up in many cultures and religions and is prominent throughout history.
How is a mala used?
Malas can be used a variety of different ways, but the most common ways are for meditation/prayer and jewelry.
For meditation, the person says a mantra each time they pass over a bead. A person can have the mantra given to them by their guru/teacher, or they can come up with a mantra that is personal to them. The mala helps them focus during their meditation practice and prevents their mind from wandering.
When it comes to jewelry, people often wear it as a necklace or wrapped several times around their wrist. Typically, they choose gems or stones that have qualities they wish to invoke. They also usually choose an intention for their mala. By wearing the mala, it acts as a constant physical reminder of their intention and often empowers them.