This past weekend, HYS offered a class sharing the gifts of Mala beads and meditation with the yoga community. A Mala is a tool used for meditation to quiet the mind. Each Mala is made with great care and positive intention and strung with beads that can either have personal significance or color-themed to concentrate on a specific chakra. Each Mala has 108 beads, and when we use them to meditate, we select a mantra and move around our Mala chanting the mantra 108 times in a practice known as mantra japa.
108 is a very significant number in many cultures, and scientifically as well. Upon further research into, “Why 108?”, many interesting parallels were found. The human body is composed of may different types of elements, which are the self-same elements that create everything around us. This duality can also be found in the passage of time and rotation of the planets around the sun. Upon further research (references credited below) there is a very interesting and significant parallel between the distance and relationship between the sun, earth, and moon. “The diameter of the Sun multiplied by 108 equals the distance between Sun and Earth, and the diameter of the Moon multiplied by 108 equals the distance between Earth and Moon. The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. That is why we have 108 beads in a mala.”. Long before scientific theory and advanced technology to study the world and our relationship to it, this parallel was found, harnessing the power of present awareness and breath observation. Additionally, there are 27 constellations in our beautiful Universal sky. 27 x 4 directions (North, South, East, & West OR Above, Below, Within, & Without) equals 108. 108 is a significant Universal number that encapsulates all space and time and everything in between. Parallels to this number can also be found in sacred geometry- the spiral of a conch shell, the distance between our hips and our hands for proper alignment in reverse tabletop or inclined plane, sunflowers, and many other places.
Spiritually speaking, 108 also has great significance to Yogic and Eastern philosophy. Coming back to the idea of scared geometry, 108 is a Harshad number- this means that it is divisible by the sum of it’s digits. When you add 1 + 8 (from 108) you get 9. 108 is divisible by 9 to give you 12, which is also a significant number in terms of Zodiac culture. Harshad, in Sanskrit, means “great joy”, owing even further importance to the significance of this number. Additionally, the Sanskrit alphabet has 54 characters, each with a masculine and feminine connotation. 54 x 2 = 108. In consideration of our Chakra system, there are many spiraling and inter-connecting lines of energy within the human body. The Sushumna Nadi, a strong energy channel in our bodies growing from the tailbone all the way to the crown of the head, is said to have 108 interseetions with other energy channels in the body. This is also the location where our physical and spiritual chakras converge and the center-point of of bodily energetic system.
So now that we understand why 108 is so important, what does this have to do with Malas and meditation? By mindfully selecting and stringing beads, we become encapsulated in present awareness. It is also said that a practiced yogi trained in pranayama (focus on the breath) and present awareness only needs to take 108 breaths per day. Based on all these facts, there is clearly a connection between the understanding and composition of time and the composition of the human body. Participating in a mantra japa, where you repeat a mantra or an intention personally significant to you, is a true exercise in breath and present awareness. Both leading and participating in a mantra japa meditation are extreme forms of present awareness since they involve staying completely focused in the present moment to ensure proper completion of the recitation of your intention 108 times (without losing track!).
For our Mala making ceremony at HYS, we chose the mantra “Om Namah Shivaya”, a mantra used to cultivate peace and unity within ourselves and the Universe around us, which is also a part of ourselves. Om Namah Shivaya, can be translated something like this, “The mantra’s mystical or more esoteric meaning is multi-leveled and quite complex. Om Namah Shivaya is a panchaskara mantra, meaning it’s made up of five syllables or literally the five holy letters (na – mah – shi – vaa – ya). It is preceded by Om or Aum, which is said to be the sacred primordial sound. The five holy vowels are the seed sounds of the five elements of creation—earth, water, fire, air, and ether—and as one chants it, one is working through the process of creation in reverse, hence perhaps the mantra’s reputed power of destroying manifestations of sin and imperfections. Another interesting interpretation is that these five syllables represent aspects of a person within the different dimensions, beginning and culminating in “Om,” the sacred primordial sound that is a symbol of the eternal divine.”. Again coming back to that idea of parallel dualism: as above, so below, as within, so without, North, South, East, and West. Malas are a manifestation of the beautiful dualities and sacred geometries within ourselves and the Universe around us.
Sitting in a communal circle, sharing the gifts and science of both Mala history and sacred geometry and jewelry making, was truly a blessing for both Lisa and myself. The energy and enthusiasm of the group was truly palpable, and we cannot wait to to do it again!
*Om Namah Shivaya*