Most people in the modern day, if you ask them what yoga is, they will tell you it is poses or postures, but if you go to India and you tell someone you’re a yoga teacher, they will expect you to teach meditation. That’s just how it is because Yoga and meditation, are one in the same thing. The yoga poses are a part of yoga, but it’s not the whole of yoga. Meditation, on the other hand, is considered the complete flowering of the science of Yoga.
Meditation is considered the master key of yoga, and within that mantra meditation is regarded as the supreme object of meditation. One of the most accessible forms of yoga meditation is japa, chanting sacred mantras or prayers. Japa meditation is a powerful practice to reduce stress and calm your mind as well as promote physical and mental well-being.
Japa is the Bhakti Yoga practice of chanting Sanskrit Mantras, softly to oneself during meditation to aid in the mental concentration and to help keep count of the chants. A string of Mala beads is recommended to begin this type of meditation. You’ll need a set of japa mala beads and a bead bag with counting beads attached. You can use beads without a bead bag, but the bag helps to keep your beads clean and respected.
In a mala, there are 108 beads and one larger bead known as the head bead or guru bead. Sometimes the beads are graduated in size from smaller to larger. Begin with a small bead next to the guru bead. Use your thumb and middle finger of your right hand to hold the mala beads. This forms a mudra or yogic gesture which is helpful for meditation. You can gently roll the bead or hold it while chanting your mantra.
Then move forward to the next bead pulling the bead towards you, into your hand and repeat the mantra. Continue in this way, chanting on each of the 108 beads until you again reach the guru bead. This is one round of japa and usually takes from six to 10 minutes. If you are chanting more than one round of japa without chanting on the guru bead, turn the strand around and begin the next round. Continue pulling the beads towards you as before. Chant clearly and try to hear the mantra with all of your attention. Some chanters find that looking at the mantra or a sacred art helps them concentrate. If that works for you, that’s fine, but remember that your goal is to listen and meditate on the sound of the mantra.
For the bead bag, your malas are sacred and should be kept in a bead bag to keep them respected and clean it also makes it easy to carry your beads wherever you go and chant as you walk or sit or wait somewhere.
One side of the bag is large enough hole to insert your hand. Your index finger comes out of the smaller hole on the other side. Practitioners decide on a minimum number of rounds of japa they want to chat each day. The string of counter beats tied to your bead bag helps you keep track of the number of rounds you have chanted by moving one counter bead for each round.