How to Use a Mala for Meditation | New Lesson

Meditating is a joyous experience. You will always look forward to it. The more you meditate, the more your love for it grows. Your day will not be complete without it.


How to Use a Mālā?

When chanting or meditating using the mālā, hold the beads in your right hand. Let the beads drape over your middle finger, ring finger and little finger. We want to keep the index finger (ego) away from the mālā as it is believed that using it to rotate the beads is unlucky in mantra meditation. We use the thumb of the right hand to rotate the mālā from one bead to the next. The thumb represents the divine spirit or God Himself.  

We start with the first bead to the right after the meru, Say your first mantra. Then using the thumb, rotate the next bead and say the mantra again and so on, until you have repeated the mantra on all 108 beads. The direction of the mālā as you work through the beads is towards the palm. 

Once you have finished 108 and you wish to do another round, turn the mālā beads and start rotating them in the other direction. We avoid saying a mantra on the meru bead or cross over it.

After your practice, you can either wear your mālā around your neck or place it on your shrine or altar if you have one. Respect it with sacredness, and do not let other people touch it. 

Yoga Teacher Training Auckland 2020
The number 108 is a spiritual number: 1 + 0 + 8 = 9. The number 9 is the number of eternity. The sum and product of all its multiples will always be 9. It cannot be destroyed. The number 1 symbolises God the Creator. The 0 added to the 1 gives it power and represents God’s creation as complete. The number 8 symbolises forever, no beginning and no end.

Attaining Sadhana | Cultivating Self-Discipline

Sadhana is the process of attaining a deep spiritual practice through meditation, chanting mantras, and prayer. The physical elements of asanas and even pranayamas (breath regulation) are not as important as the spiritual observances in the practice of Sadhana. 

One of the goals of Sadhana to cultivate Self-discipline. This shall require a change of your mindset, discipline in speech and mindful actions. Meditation requires energy and it comes from having a healthy body. Our diets, physical fitness, and overall lifestyle management would have to be considered too. When the body is weak and always sick, then sustaining a rigorous meditation practice would not be possible. 

On top of them all, you need to exercise strong willpower, dedication, sense-control and determination. This is not easy, especially for a beginner, thus the guidance of a teacher is essential. The teacher shall give you a progressive programme which you need to follow strictly. Your teacher knows what you are capable of doing. He trusts you and will not give you something which is impossible to attain given your level and personal circumstances.

It is important to pay attention not only to your teacher’s instruction but to your daily experiences, tasks and obligations – the amount of time you spend thinking and doing something, planning, evaluating, managing your tasks and scheduling them properly. If we know when and how a particular task is to be accomplished given the time we have on our hands, then our minds become more focused on accomplishing something productive. It is not healthy for the body and the mind to be doing many tasks all at once. At first, it would be helpful to have a list of the things you intend to accomplish for a given day. Then, put the most important tasks on top of the list. Assign a time for each task and try your best to follow your plan. 

As time passes, you will be able to determine which is essential and which is not, then you will likely to accomplish the important ones first. As your mind becomes less distracted, your day becomes more productive. As you see more positive results, you are likely to keep it going and growing.

It does not mean adding more tasks on the list. Actually, you are cutting the list down to only important ones. You will be surprised by how much time you spend in doing less important things. Some of them might not be important at all. Then, contentment arises because you are accomplishing more in less time. And you will have more time to spend for yourself, for your meditation, for your practice, and for your loved ones.

The thought of change could give us the fright. A lot of times, our minds sabotage the process of change by suddenly becoming ill. Our minds do not like to be commanded or restricted. The road to attaining Sadhana is rough and not always straight. There will be many obstacles which may seem impossible to overcome at first. We need to make sacrifices for a higher purpose which is not material at all.  

With consistent practice, you will gain the inner strength to overcome each obstacle as it arises. Start stacking the building blocks and make that first important step, right now. It may be as simple as cutting the time you spend in social media interaction, and channel the time you save reading about meditation instead. 

Whatever your goal is, you need to work through it slowly, mindfully and willingly. We make gradual changes with perseverance, determination and consistency. However, we do not want to force ourselves to do something which we are not ready and capable of sustaining, given the many aspects surrounding our lives. If the practice feels heavy and burdensome, then, it might mean giving it more time to grow organically by going to group meditation sessions instead or simply by listening to recorded mantras (songs or chants).

SO HAM – I AM THAT / I AM THE SPIRIT

General Principles and Guidelines for Mantras | Kriyas | Japa

For this exercise, let us use the SO HAM mantra (pronounced as ‘So-Hum’).

The awareness of the natural flow of the breath is integrated with the mantra. ‘So’ means  ‘I am’ and ‘Ham’ means ‘That’ (‘That’ meaning Spirit, Divine Consciousness).

The following practice of the SO HAM increases awareness and concentration and is one of the most powerful of all the mantras. Most bij (seed) mantras are high-energy producing ones, the So Ham, on the other hand, is not as dynamic but so effective in stilling the mind. We could achieve pratyāhāra (sense-withdrawal) by mastering the practice of this technique:

  1. Sit comfortably upright on a chair, or cross-legged on the floor with a cushion, and adjust your spine so that your pelvis, chest and head are vertically aligned. This structural alignment is applicable not only for the So Ham Mantra but for all the other mantras we do in the practice. There are differences in the positioning of the legs for some other Kriyas, such as the Sat Kriya, where the knees are in the Virasana (kneeling), but the observances for the hips and the spine remain the same.
  2. Inhale deeply and extend the arms overhead. Palms of the hands are facing forward with the fingers spread widely apart to energise the palms and the surrounding joints of fingers and the wrists. Alert the spine. At the top of the inhalation, hold the breath and fully stretch the side body long. Lightly, tense all the parts of your body. Retain the inhalation using the eight-beat retention pattern (thousand one, thousand two thousand three…)
  3. Then exhaling with long, ‘haaa’ sound through the lips. Loosen the jaw and relax the mouth. Release all tension and completely relax your body. Repeat tensing and relaxing your body two more times.
  4. Scan your body. If you must adjust do so gently so that we keep the mind inwardly focused. Close your eyes and lift your eyes inside the mind to your Spiritual Eye (at the midpoint between the eyebrows). Feel your breath go back to its natural rhythm, feeling its subtle and slow flow through the inner realms of your whole being, physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. With a long and steady inhalation, draw your breath from the base of the spine (mūladhāra chakra) to the tops of the back of the neck (medulla oblongata).  The breath here is an experience and not just the gaseous element. Feel it rise!.
  6. This is easily achieved by lightly folding the chin close to the throat until you feel the breath pierce through the hollow space between the collar bones. There should be no tension though. You may relax the throat once the sensation becomes organic.
  7. This mantra, especially if you chant it has an energetic effect to the brain. The ‘so’ allows the pathway in the neck leading to the brain open up. The ‘hum’ seals it back while the energy is lightly confined inside to stimulate the inner brain.
  8. On the other hand if you chhose to breathe through process, the rising inhalation brings the energy upwards through your spine from the base of the hips to the top of neck (medulla oblongata). You may confine it up a bit inside before exhaling the breath out (as your mind says ‘hum). This vibration is the mantra so’ham.
  9. If you are playing a musical guide, keep the volume down just enough that you can lightly hear the music. Over a period of time, we need to do this meditation ourselves alone without any external distractions. Now, as you inhale, hear the mantric sound So. Then, exhaling down the spine from the tip of the neck (medulla) to the mūladhāra chakra, hear the sound ham.
  10. Continue the technique with total concentration and awareness, listening inwardly to the sound of the mantra and follow the movement of breath (subtle sensation) up and down the inner passage within your spine. Allow your breath to flow naturally and smoothly in an unbroken flow of inner sound – so’ham so’ham so’ham –  so that one repetition of the mantra weaves smoothly into the next. The mind becomes one with the mantra and the breath transforms so lightly that the body becomes still and silent.Later on, as the Bandhas become more involved in your meditation, you may utilise them so gently that a light clip at the top of the inhalation (Jalandhara Bandha)) is done to keep the spine alert and open. Then, as you exhale let the Uddiyana Bandha (Core Lock) regulate the release of the exhalation so that only the gaseous air exits the body. A slight pause at the bottom of the exhalation to access the root lock (Muladhara Bandha) is also applied. The collective work of the Bandhas shall confine the pranic energy in the inner body as you meditate.
  11. As you practise, become more focused and one-pointed. Focusing on the breath is the best way to develop this skill of deep concentration. You will be surprised that your mind surrenders later on, without the support of the breath already. It would be so eaasy to drift back once this happens, that is why, we need to keep the spine alert throughout the practice.
  12. A beginner’s practice is 27 repetitions which is around 5 minutes. Increase to 54 repetitions after 2 weeks and so on until al the 108 beads are meditated upon. This is about 20 minutes which is very doable. If you are not using the mālā, set a timer. This is very helpful to keep track of your progress. Then bit by bit, let go of your external tools until you can practise in full solitude.
  13. To finish your practice, use your natural breath to slowly return your awareness back to your physical body. Applying gentle pressure, start rubbing your arms, then the face, the neck and the legs. Do gentle stretches to release the stagnation of the hips and lower back.  Lightly shake the arms to release stagnation. You may lay down on your back for a few more minutes. Become aware of the environment around you, then sit quietly and slowly get up.
  14. For silent practice, you may say it inside the mind, inhaling to the So and exhaling to the Hum.  Pause after each line to reflect on the spiritual meaning of the lines and the words in it. 

“You are not your body neither your senses. You are not the breath. You are not the mind. You are the energy, the spirit, separate and unique, boundless and timeless”.

Sukha Yoga

Preservation of our energy for the Meditation

We need to give a separate time for our meditation practice on top of the asanas. Although, the practice of asanas at this stage would have to be controlled as well. Meditation which requires us to control the flow of the breath needs a lighter type of energy to sustain. We cannot comply with its requirements if the body is too full or hungry. We cannot stay still and sustain the practice of we are tired, sluggish or intoxicated. Neither could our minds relax of we are so energised and restless. This shall require us to plan our daily lives – from the time of our waking up, to the time for recreation and relaxation, our eating times, our practice times, our meditation times and duration etc.  

All of these would have to be scheduled properly and we must adhere to it consistently. We cannot just wake up every day without a plan and just do our activities randomly. The energy does not develop that way. We are just wasting our precious prana doing that.

The Organic Change

To be able to sustain a meditation practice is not easy.  It takes time and a change of mindset. Personally, I followed the way which starts with the physical body and breath regulation (kriyas). I started really low and some of you might have transcended way ahead spiritually. Nevertheless, be it through the body or pure concentration, organic changes will manifest. Once we see positive changes in our health and total wellbeing, the energy of the mind increases.

There are indications that Sadhana is already happening to you. You might be feeling most of these already. In that case, move backwards by developing it in your body and breath. That’s the way our energy works – either from the mind to the body or body to the mind. The manifestations below are very Satwa in nature. Kundalini Awakening when it happens through the Hatha Yoga, gives a more energetic indications and symptoms as we will tackle later in the course.

  1. Meditating is a joyous experience. You always look forward to it. The more you meditate, the more your love for it grows. Your day is not complete without it.

  2. Meditating becomes so light and calming. Whether sitting in crossed legs or lying down, the mind is so attuned to the inner functions of the body and the breath as you recite your mantra. There is mental clarity and focus to the meditation but the mind is also aware of the external world.

  3. There is this organic joy in learning more about meditation in general. As you learn more about the other disciplines, you will realise how they just talk about one and the same thing. The divinity inside us and to experience our Ultimate Self. Reading spiritual and sacred writings would also feel more interesting and easy to understand. Their messages would become so meaningful as they would feel like your own story. You would start to realise the deeper meaning of the words spoken by the wise ones hundreds of generations before you. It would be interesting to find out the path has not changed a bit so many thousands of years over.

  4. As you develop spiritually, the effects of meditation upon your inner being radiate in your external behaviour. You share this divinity with the rest of the humankind and every one around you is bestowed with the potential to rise. Life is sacred and to be able to have the chance to experience it is the most precious gift.
  1. You become more nature-loving. This includes the love for animals and the preservation of the environment. God’s presence is all around us. It is the life-force which is so abundant in the air we breathe, from the food which springs from the fertile soil of the earth, and from the clean waters of the ocean. All life depends on this vital force. Energetically, this life-force links us with the astral system which is one step closer to experiencing God’s presence. 
  1. It is ok to be different and be alone sometimes. The time you spend for yourself is necessary to recharge, to refocus, to stay happy and content, without the need to look outside and compare. There is so much to do getting to know yourself that you would not have the time look outside. This, however, does not mean isolation. You need this time for yourself to serve others. In fact, it leads to a better understanding of the many different paths each and every one of us take to attain happiness and content. You have yours, they have theirs. They are not necessarily the same but they serve our intention and goals given our present physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual circumstances.
  1. Meditation keeps the fluctuations of the mind at the bay. Every time the senses take over, you could easily channel the mind to meditate instead. You are able too quickly change the way your mind thinks, so, instead of spending your energies in ways which may lead to sense-attachments, by meditating, you are able to bring balance and harmony to your daily life.
  1. It all boils down to practice. Whatever the method is, practice creates more energy. This energy would improve our overall well-being. Energy is like the muscles in our bodies, it grows through practice.  Then this energy shall light us to know ourselves better. Knowing our pristine nature shall bring happiness and inner peace. Then our peace and joy shall shine out.  It has to start from within. It is Organic Change.  
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I did not have a teacher to guide me through all the sensitivities of the practice. Experience is my teacher. But looking back, I fully encourage you to seek guidance of a teacher for health, safety and wellness. 

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