What Making Malas Has Taught Me About Life
A couple years ago I was inspired to make my own mala necklaces for meditation.
I had thought about making them for years and resisted it. What came up instead was crappy stretchy bracelets with clay and porcelain beads that were remarkably uninspired, I tried selling them, and sold embarrassingly few.
In another attempt to avoid making spiritually-based jewelry, I revisited my high school practice of making hemp jewelry. I was working at a gym at the time that had multiple locations with school-like colors and the pride to go along with it, so I started making color-coordinated bracelets with fun alphabet beads to match each location. In my youth, I was unaware this might not sit well with the owners of the gym when I was trying to make money off of what I was making…and using their company names and colors.
All the while in the back of my mind I saw mala necklaces. Mala necklaces made of stones and crystals, things I had been in to when I was young, and as I grew up and “matured” I felt like it was child’s play and discarded it from my life. What was I going to do with a bunch of loose stones from family vacations to Colorado and like places? Sure, they were pretty and interesting, but they just took up space.
I forget how it began, but I started meditating again, and meditating with my mala beads. I learned to use my mala beads in my first yoga teacher training, which was really the most useful skill I got out of my first training. I recall my teacher telling us our first mala would “come to us” because it “chooses us”, which, at the time, I thought was bullshit. Now, of course, I think more in alignment with what she taught.
However, inwardly I ascribed to what she said. I thought the perfect mala was going to come to me, and it seemed that nomalas were coming to me. It became clear to me that certain malas were coming up for me in my mind, inspired malas, malas that I really wanted to meditate with because they were beautiful and made out of lovely natural stone beads. I love stone beads because they’re cool to the touch, which, I can only assume, my pitta dosha loves because it cools my heat down.
I kept seeing rose quartz, goldstone, and clear quartz in my mind’s eye when I would think about meditating. I scoured the internet for the right mala, and I was continuously left disillusioned for what was on the market. To me meditation was a special experience, and I wanted a mala that reflected that. More importantly, I wanted a mala that was special and unique. I was tired of seeing malas with om signs, peace signs, and hamsas. Not that they aren’y beautiful, they definitely are, but what I was looking for was for something with a little touch of magic.
I began to look for malas that had a unicorn charm on it, or something else unusual and fun.
I wanted to be inspired to pick up my mala and use it, and all the while I kept seeing them in my mind, and not seeing them anywhere in reality: not in any shop, farmer’s market, or on Etsy. Everything looked it like was thrown together fast and just made to be made, rather than made with the intention to inspire.
So, one day, I don’t even remember how I got them, I ended up with a bunch of strands of beads. I had rose quartz, agate, blue goldstone, and opalite. All my favorite, and only some were natural. Two were man made, and the agate was dyed hot pink.
I had funky, fun unicorn charms of just the pony’s head. I was picky about the thread I chose: I didn’t care much for tradition when it came to them. I was aware that there was a special “mala thread” for them, but I knew that wasn’t the right fit. I saw sparkly, handmade tassels that matched the thread that joined the mala beads themselves. I found that thread in the embroidery department of the craft store.
My first mala took my 8 hours to make. I didn’t know that beading needles were a thing. I kept having to chop the end of the thread as it frayed, wetted the end with my mouth over and over, and even resorted to glue to harden it to get it to go through the hole of the bead.
Even the push to make the malas themselves was a source of inspiration and push. This is a story really of me finally accepting my own spirituality and spiritual practice, and admitting it to the world. Before this, I was stopped by the belief that people would make fun of me if they knew I meditated, if they knew I chanted in Sanskrit with mala beads and did a ton of pranayama prior to that. Yes, I had these thoughts despite being a yoga teacher and practicing yoga for nearly twenty years. The old athlete-mentality still never left me for some things.
But when I did finally make these, I felt like a lid had been blasted off a boiling pot. The release was so complete, it was the breakthrough I needed.
I made about 6 malas with that first run of beads. They took me a couple days to make. I sold each one for $75 and I sold them right away.
That first run of malas I made in a hurry and from a place of desperation. I had already bought the materials and was waiting for a moment of inspiration to strike that would cause me to create them. The universe caused it, instead. All, and I do mean ALL, of my clients randomly stopped training with me for an entire December. I panicked, because I realized that with the money I was making from teaching my classes, I was only going to have enough for the essentials, and Christmas was around the corner.
All of my clients stopping for an entire month wasn’t expected at all. They all had good reasons, so I couldn’t be upset at them. It was just how it was, and how it went.
I was shocked when I realized how quickly my malas sold. I even made special tags for them by hand, explaining the meanings of the stones, colors, the charms, and everything. I gave them a name: the Magical Unicorn Malas.
As time went on, I probably made around 100 Magical Unicorn Malas.
Magical things began happening in my life as I continued to make them.
I had a feeling that I should break from the traditional 108 beads that malas usually are. I was just learning about the significance of repeating numbers, and was feeling that I should change the MUM to 111 beads instead of 108.
One day, I was making one of the first angel-themed malas in my collection. I was nearly done with it, and stopped to count the beads. I only had a couple to go before I made it to 108. This mala was a clear quartz crystal mala and it was threaded with sparkly light yellow thread. It reminded me of my sister because her favorite color is yellow. After I did the count, I remember I got into a trance. I landed in the rhythm of making the mala so deeply, that I forgot I was even making it. My hands moved automatically: grabbing a bead, threading it, tying 2 knots, grabbing a bead, and so on.
Suddenly, I came to with a start and realized I had threaded way too many beads, and had made my knots way too tight to hope to even untie them well enough to get the necklace to the right number. Having the right amount of beads was important to me, because when I would shop for them I would count them. Most malas I found were more than 108 beads, and I got the sense they were there purely for decoration and not for their intended purpose of meditation. I really wanted a mala that stayed true to the 108 bead tradition, even though I was being pulled and guided to create my own thing.
I stopped and started frantically counting the beads, anticipating counting all the way to 115.
When I got to the last couple beads, I was shocked.
The mala ended perfectly at 111 beads.
It was my second angel themed mala ever.
Repeating 1’s means your angels are watching your thoughts, and that you should think about what it is you want, because your angels are taking a snap shot of that thought and are going to make it manifest. That’s why it’s tradition to make a wish when you see 1:11 or 11:11 on the clock.: that wish is going to come true.
I was so shocked I put the string of beads down and didn’t touch them for a day or two. When I did finish it, I gave it to my sister, Kelsey, because I felt that I couldn’t make money off that piece, and I saw her in my mind the entire time I was making it.
Malas taught me to trust. Trust the flow of the universe. I’ve learned more from malas by making them than I have by meditating with them.
I remember how uninspired and ego-driven my other bracelets were. How they exhausted me and I really thought they would sell and they didn’t. I had spent a lot of money on them, even my rent money, thinking they would sell, and I ended up giving them away.
My malas were another story.
The more I made, the more I got into the process. I began loving making them so much I would spend hours making them, by this point getting really efficient because I discovered not only beading needles, but the rhythm for producing them at a fast pace.
The shortest amount of time it took me to start and finish a mala, from first bead to handmade tassel tied and the knots glued was 40 minutes.
Here are the more important lessons mala making taught me:
One bead at a time
To create a beautiful mala efficiently, I tried to string multiple beads at once. Malas can take a long time to make, and I tried to shorten the time by stringing more than one bead (I think the most I tried was five) and then adding the knots with all those beads on the thread.
This worked terribly.
I had no control over the string, and the knots were forming in the wrong places. The knots ended up being too far apart and the beads too loose, and for anyone who has meditated with malas before, meditating on loosely beaded malas is a type of thumb-gymnastics I don’t want to experience again.
I realized that the quickest way was the longest and most deliberate way: do one bead at a time, and make your thread too long in case you have to cut it for any reason. The slower, the faster. A paradox just like yoga itself.
The beading itself reminded me to take the process one step at a time, just like yoga, just like life.
Everything is connected
This is what was really profound to me.
After about my 50thmala, I realized the metaphor that they are.
All 108 or 111 beads were connected by a single thread. Each bead is individual until I put them all together on one string and give them purpose with a tassel, and sometimes a charm.
I began seeing this metaphor everywhere, and it began when I as teaching power yoga.
I realized that our breath is the thread that connects the beads of all our poses.
And then it went deeper than that.
Way of being is the thread that connects all human beings to each other.
We are all on one grand string of a giant, universal mala necklace. Each of us is a single bead. We are all part of something greater and grander than ourselves.
Make What Inspires You, It Inspires Others
This just hit me today: when I finally started making malas, something extraordinary happened: everyone else did, too.
And what was extra-remarkable was that non of us were competing with each other. We all supported each other’s work, sometimes even buying pieces from each other.
It blew my mind how different everyone’s version of malas became: my then-coworker Jenaia had perfectly executed malas with the precisionof a jeweler. Some of the tightest and most beautifully executed knots and tassels I have ever seen. Izzy’s malas took on a more fun dynamic complete with interesting combinations of stone beads and multi-colored handmade tassels. Other teachers began making them, too, and everyone agreed on the same thing: making them in and of itself was a meditation.
And we were all self-taught. We just followed and instinct to make them, and we made them out of pure inspiration and desired.
This, for a long time, united us. I even helped some of the other yogis sell them.
This never happened when I was making those stretchy painted-clay-bead bracelets and hemp macramé atrocities.
I still have many of these malas in my collection, and use them regularly.
Malas Really Do Choose You
I don’t make malas like I used to.
It became less and less of a priority as I got clear on where my life was headed next, career-wise.
Making them can be isolating, despite the attempts we all made to get together for mala-making parties, which only happened a couple times, and not everyone could make it every time.
As making malas dropped on my priority list, so did needing to make money off of them. I began making them on a case-by-case basis only, and I started making them as gifts.
I had something occur recently that had to do with a very special mala I had in my collection. One of my friends, Izzy, had made a gorgeous purple charoite mala with amethyst accent beads and a butterfly charm. At the time, I had just learned about the healing power of charoite and how it helps with stress relief, and I was going through a really hard time in my life then. Instantly I knew that mala was mine. I chalked up the money to buy it. By this time in our mala-making enterprise, all of us had raised our prices to be $100 or more, because of the time and effort we had learned went in to creating these pieces.
A couple months ago, a yoga student of mine surprised me and reached out to me requesting I teach her meditation. I agreed and went to her house expecting just a pranayama session, which I was going to give for free. We ended up talking about chanting meditation with malas, and I spoke a lot about the power of different stones and one piece in my collection in particular, my charoite mala.
It turned out she suffered from a lot of stress and anxiety. I kept seeing my charoite mala in my mind’s eye, and yet went ahead and designed a lepidolite mala for her instead that had a quartz crystal charm on it. I threaded it with light purple thread and it had a moonstone guru bead.
Even though it was beautiful, well-intentioned, and a lot of thought and work went into it, something didn’t feel right.
I gave it to her anyway.
She, of course, loved it, and used it.
One day I felt an urge to reach out and see how her practice was going, so I did. And her response shocked me.
She started with “You wouldn’t believe what happened, I didn’t want to tell you.”[
She proceeded to tell me she had kept the mala in her purse. She hadn’t used it that much, because shortly after she got it, she went to the beach and her entire purse was stolen at the beach, including the brand new lepidolite mala I had made for her.
Interestingly, I wasn’t that upset. In fact, I was a little relieved.
She was of course upset about all of her cards being stolen and having to be replaced, and all the other inconveniences that come with having your purse stolen, but I knew exactly what I had to do.
Rosella Rossi’s voice, my first yoga teacher training facilitator from college who originally taught me to meditate with malas and said that malas choose you and not the other way around, popped into my head.
I heard and felt the charoite mala belonged to her.
The lepidolite was never meant to be hers. It was meant for someone else.
I could tell how upset my student was because she had just started her chanting practice and believe in it so much-how could this happen at such a crucial time in her life?
I realized it had been nearly three years since I had meditated with my butterfly charoite mala.
It was time for it to move on.
As soon as I could, I went home and grabbed the mala, swung by her place, and placed it in her mailbox.
I sent her a text letting her know that I left something for her there.
When she returned home later to find it, she tried returning it to me. I had told her a lot about the charoite stone, how it’s the stone of comfort and it arrived at the perfect time in my life when I needed it the most.
“It’s so important to you” one of her text messages read.
But I responded with a message that said it’s work with me was complete. That things happen in life for a reason sometimes, and in this case that reason was to give the right person the right mala that was right for them. One that I didn’t even make! One that I had bought for myself, from a dear friend, who put just as much love and attention into his pieces and I did in mine.
I could feel her gratitude through the text. I knew I was probably never going to use that mala again, and even if I do need another charoite stone mala, I always know where I can get a custom one.
Malas, especially making them, hss taught me more about spirituality, trust, and faith than nearly anything else has.
Now, when a mala comes up in my mind’s eye and I feel who it belongs to, I don’t wait. I get online and order the beads and make it as quickly as possible. My intention behind making them is to inspire people to want to meditate. Because they want to, not because they need to.
Yes, I know it “shouldn’t” matter what a mala looks like. We do meditate with our eyes closed, after all. However, I love meditating with intentionally made malas. It reminds me of the intentional magic of life: the more intentional I am, the more synchronistic life is.
Take life one bead at a time, we are all connected, and your mala will come to you if you let go and trust the flow of the universe.
What greater lessons are there than those?