From the Question Bag: Mala Beads

Mala Beads.  Photo by linsepatron, CC license
Mala Beads.
Photo by linsepatron, CC license

Hi, I am now taking yoga teacher training and am learning and growing a lot. I usually am able to turn things into prayers to Christ, but now am uncomfortable with one thing. The teacher has asked us to buy mala beads. What is your position on mala beads?  –G.L. 


Hi G.L.,

Thanks for your question! I think Christians who practice yoga and/or meditation have different perspectives on mala beads — from using them or not using them to how they use them in different ways. I don’t know of anyone who rejects them outright. I’ll try to give you a breadth of perspective while also explaining my usage of mala beads.

To my knowledge, mala beads are a meditation tool. There’s nothing inherently sacred in them themselves–just like yoga poses, the mala beads can be used to focus your intention on Christ.

In the book Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice, Father Thomas Ryan does a lot of talking about meditation as a Christian tool. Whereas Eastern meditation aims to empty the mind of attachments, Christian meditation empties and then fills the mind/being/soul with Christ. Make sense?

Father Ryan advocates using a breath prayer, or a mantra, to help tether the mind during meditation. The mind wanders, you know, with thoughts that incessantly float. Having a breath prayer (something you say/think with each inhale/exhale) helps the mind center. A common Christian prayer is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Often people shorten it to a breath prayer: “Jesus” on the inhale, “mercy” on the exhale.

Mala beads come alongside the breath as this tether. You can finger a bead with each breath, or say a prayer with each bead (which might take more than one breath). I’m sure your yoga training has suggestions for how to use them, and you can modify those to Christian meditation usage.

Pray the Rosary Photo by Lawrence OP, CC license
Pray the Rosary
Photo by Lawrence OP, CC license

Mala beads, really, are similar to the Catholic rosary in usage. So there is something similar to mala beads in the Christian tradition.

I made my own set, honestly. It’s 108 beads and I patterned it after the chakras and the Trinity (it’s complicated to explain). So I combined imagery from both traditions in my set. I wasn’t comfortable using a rosary and I wasn’t comfortable using mala beads–not because I thought there was anything wrong with either, just because I felt very called to create my own beads for where I was in my life. I use them for meditation. This link will explain them a bit more.

If I were in the situation you are in, I would buy a set of mala beads that I thought were beautiful (there are so many gorgeous ones out there!), and use them with freedom and gratefulness for this incredible time of spiritual growth in your life. As a Christian, you can use mala beads to help you meditate and center on Christ.

So go find yourself a mantra! Allow the mala beads to tether your mind to your meditative intention.

I’m glad you’re enjoying your yoga training! Peace to you, friend.

My own set of prayer beads Photo by Renee Prymus
My own set of prayer beads
Photo by Renee Prymus
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