Thursday, July 11, 2013

Japa Mala Beads: So Much More Than a Strand of Pretty Beads

I've always been intrigued by the beautiful strands of beads that I've seen on delicate display cases at yoga studios and wrapped around the wrists of my favorite teachers. These beaded strands are always a mixture of bright and lovely colors that invite you to stop and look at them. I've paused several times over the past month to feel the smooth roundness of the beads and wondered what meaning they carried within them. Each strands carries a small tag with a short description of what the beads signify and the mindful intentions imbued upon the wearer.
The japa mala is a strand of 108 beads, each bead is touched as the yogi goes through repetitive prayer, reciting the same mantra or prayer, with each new bead. Each strand has a 109th bead at the end of the strand. This bead known as the bindu or the "guru" bead, it sits outside the strand of 108. When one reaches this 109th bead it signals the wearer to switch to the opposite direction and continue the prayer around the strand again. The prayer then becomes an endless cycle of repetitive intention, never ceasing. Just as yoga is a moving meditation, so are these beads. Japa in Sanskirt stems from jap, which translates as "uttering in a low (or internal) voice". The japa mala becomes an extension of the person who wears them, a secret is stored in the beads that only the wearer knows how to unlock. 

So in order to do a little more research before just picking one up at the studio, I found the website on the back of one of the strands and found out that they came from a little store in downtown Denver. Since my parents live fifteen minutes away from the store, I immediately called up my mom and asked her to make a little detour downtown for me. I was on the website for over an hour, trying to select the beads that reflected a color I liked and a message I felt resonated with my personality and intentions. I had picked out several choices and my mom set off on her mission to find them for me. Little did I know what she had in store for her.

My mom entered the small store, Tibet Imports, off 6th Ave in Denver, and immediately inquired about my bead selections, thinking she would just pick a color and be on her way. One of the owners, named Sarita, stood quietly behind the counter and stopped my mom immediately, "Wait, I need to know so much more about this woman before we start talking about the beads." My mom was surprised by the question and was immediately encouraged to tell her more about me and my wish for the beads. They talked for generally about my intention for the beads, my birth date, the hour of my birth, and my astrology sign. Then Sarita entered everything meticulously into a computer until out came the perfect "recipe" for my japa mala.

As Sarita began to deconstruct the meaning behind the strand, the bead color: garnet, the string color: dark blue, the 109th bead or the "guru" bead: the Rahu bead for grounding; she slowly strung the 108 beads together, knot by knot, the woman told the story of who I am and how these beads would aid me in my life.The amazing thing was that the woman knew so much about me as a person, without ever having met me. In my kitchen this past weekend (my mom was visiting to help out on short film collaboration between my boyfriend and I), my mom pulled the japa mala strand from a small purple bag and began to describe it's deep meaning to me. I was amazed to discover that the beads were infused with my deepest intentions; all without ever speaking them aloud to myself or other people. I now carry this strand of small beads on my wrist, especially when I need to connect to my intentions. It has turned a pretty necklace into a unlikely spiritual intention.

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