Mala Beads – Why is 108 the Magic Number?

by Tim Clark on August 27, 2016

malaOn our most recent Yoga Retreat to Andalusia’s stunning Valle de Vida, our guests at ‘Get Hot Raw & Juicy’ received a welcome pack containing some goodies, including a string of Indian Mala beads.

In the past I’ve given lavender eye pillows for Yoga Nidra Meditation, but felt inspired this year after receiving my own mala from Ashtangi John Scott at Purple Valley – and hearing his reverent references to Guruji’s ‘The Yoga Mala’ (a great classic read by Sri Pattabhi Jois btw). JS is SO into his mala beads that he actually threads them onto his goatee beard to signify where we are at in the Vinyasa…*

It is said that each bead represents the Posture and the string that links and weaves through them symbolises the Breath. I like that a lot. I have fond memories as a 7 year old girl about to take her Catholic First Holy Communion and a sense of coming-of-age and pride to receive a white rosary. I also recall watching in fascination on holiday as Greek fishermen flicked their worry-beads backwards and forwards with such precision and agility that I begged my mum to buy me my very own set to practice with. Much later in life, I remember hearing for the first time the Spine described by Bikram Choudhury as ‘the Beads of a Pearl Necklace’…what’s NOT to love about beads and necklaces, right?

Malas can be made from gems, wood, Rudraksha seeds or even bone. There are exactly 108 beads on each Mala or ‘garland.’ Traditionally used in Meditation, with the ‘Guru’ bead at the centre, the Mala is a powerful reminder of our ‘Sankalpa’ (Intention) and I always strongly encourage retreat guests write down and work with Sankalpa during their stay, and honour this as a clear ‘Contract’ with themselves.

Having initially questioned the wearing of Mala beads (unsure this look works outside of Goa, Brighton or LA; although some US designers charge £500 plus for a bespoke blessed crystal Mala) I felt a tad clichéd yoga-teacher running around South East London in my beads. But the spiritual significance of the Mala is really special and beautiful, so I wanted to share the joys of Mala with my own Students. I was chuffed in Spain to see our guests wearing at every opportunity the white wooden mala in ‘Tulsi’ that I chose for them and sometimes even making heart shapes on their yoga mat – much cuteness! Those beads became a symbol of unity for our group;  they hung off our ears as we exited PadaHastasana, we laughed, cried, loved, lived and swam in them. They’ve become a much cherished souvenir of our time up the mountain and as each group is so unique and special, if I want to give Mala beads in the future at another Retreat, they will have to be another kind of bead. There’s no denying that a decent set of Mala beads with their sassy little red tassel looks AWESOME as a necklace or wrapped around a tanned wrist with a bikini & sarong for Summer – despite the fact they defo have to be removed for comfort to actually DO any yoga!

‘A String of Opinions no more Constitutes Faith than a String of Beads Constitutes Holiness’ – John Wesley

 

So, what IS the meaning of the Mala and why does it have exactly 108 beads?

There is a WEALTH of information out there, here is just a little of what I found…

  • If one is able to be so calm in meditation as to have only 108 breaths in a day,
    enlightenment will come.
  • Some say there are 108 styles of meditation.
  • There are 108 paths to god
  • The chakras are the intersections of energy lines,
    and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines
    converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra,
    said to be the path to Self-realization.
  • There are said to be 108 lies that humans tell.
  • Buddhists carve 108 small Buddhas on a walnut for good luck.
  • There are said to be 108 virtues to cultivate and 108 defilements to avoid.
  • Atman, the human soul or center goes through 108 stages on the journey
  • There are 54 letters in Sanskrit each can be mentioned as masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) aspect, totalling 108
  • In Tantra, it is estimated that every day we breathe 21,600 times out of which 10,800 are solar energy and 10,800 are lunar energy. Multiplying 108 X 100 is 10,800
  • The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.
  • In Japan a bell is chimed 108 times to finish the old year and welcome the new one. Each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations that a person must overcome to achieve nirvana.
  • The Sikh tradition has a mala of 108 knots tied in a string of wool, rather than beads.
  • Some say that 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
  • Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.
  • In Ayurveda, there are 108 “Marma” points that are vital for giving life to living beings.

So, what are the 108 Human Attachments/Delusions to avoid?….

(Are you ready? Deep Breath)…….Abuse; aggression; ambition; anger; arrogance; baseness; blasphemy; calculation; callousness; capriciousness; censoriousness; conceitedness; contempt; cruelty; cursing; debasement; deceit; deception; delusion; derision; desire for fame; dipsomania; discord; disrespect; disrespectfulness; dissatisfaction; dogmatism; dominance; eagerness for power; effrontery; egoism; enviousness; envy; excessiveness; faithlessness; falseness; furtiveness; gambling; garrulity; gluttony; greed; greed for money; grudge; hard-heartedness; hatred; haughtiness; high-handedness; hostility; humiliation; hurt; hypocrisy; ignorance; imperiousness; imposture; impudence; inattentiveness; indifference; ingratitude; insatiability; insidiousness; intolerance; intransigence; irresponsibility; jealousy; know-it-all; lack of comprehension; lecherousness; lying; malignancy; manipulation; masochism; mercilessness; negativity; obsession; obstinacy; obstinacy; oppression; ostentatiousness; pessimism; prejudice; presumption; pretence; pride; prodigality; quarrelsomeness; rage; rapacity; ridicule; sadism; sarcasm; seducement; self-denial; self-hatred; sexual lust; shamelessness; stinginess; stubbornness; torment; tyranny; unkindness; unruliness; unyielding; vanity; vindictiveness; violence; violent temper; voluptuousness; wrath (Phew, only a few then!)

Voluptuousness, really?!

Guess we’ve all got some work to do then before our next ‘Get Hot Raw & Juicy’ trip in 2017, coming?…

Hope you enjoy rocking out your 108 Mala Beads Yogis!

Namaste,

Naomi x

 

*Undecided as yet if this is completely genius or just totally barmy. And do the beard-malas get in the way of his porridge/locust-pose/snogging?….

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie September 4, 2016 at 5:42 pm

I struggle to understand the ambition and pride beads ?

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aubrey December 6, 2016 at 2:41 am

Also: 108= 1x 2×2 x3x3x3 or 1 times 2 squared times 3 cubed !

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