Mindful Mala Meditation: How to use Mala Beads to Meditate

In this article, you will learn a quick and easy mindfulness meditation that you can do with your favorite mala beads!

“We are meditating to stop, calm, rest, and realize deep insights.”

This article features a simple mindfulness meditation you can do anywhere at almost any time. For instance, you can practice this meditation while walking, sitting, standing, or waiting in line! There are two forms, the Full Meditation and Half Meditation – we will cover both.

Chakra Mala Bead NecklaceThis meditation coherently blends mindful breathing techniques taught by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and the use of mala beads as both a focusing tool and a timer. Mindful breathing is an excellent meditation method that I use daily, and it has numerous physical and mental health benefits.

When we breathe mindfully, we are noticing our breath move in and out, or up and down. We watch, or “follow,” the breath as it moves in and out. By being aware or “mindful” of our breath, going in and out, we can begin to practice being here in the present moment. We are meditating to stop, calm, rest, and realize deep insights.

mediation forest

Beginners often find it strenuous to stay focused on their breathing due to distracting thoughts or sounds. There are numerous tools, some of which I employ to practice continuous focus on the breath. Sometimes I count my breaths, counting exhales (as they note a full breath) up to ten and back to one. Other times I may recite a poem “in, out” for each breath, “deep, slow, calm ease,” the list of meditation tools goes on and on.

For this meditation, we are using a set of mala beads as a counter of breaths. For each exhale, we flick one bead. Using mala beads for meditation also saves us from another common deterrent for novice meditators: the bell. Often, beginners sit in meditation anxiously awaiting the bell, nervous for it to ring for fear of being startled. By using the mala beads as a timer, we free ourselves from any startling bells, alarms or timers.

Here’s How We Do It


Step One: Find Your Space

It is a good habit to intend a particular space to meditate. Some create meditation areas in spare bedrooms, but if you lack that available space, even a corner will do. As I mentioned before, you can also do this standing or while walking, not just sitting. Creating a space for sitting meditation can be as easy as putting a cushion down or as complex as doing an altar ritual. Some people, including myself on occasion, light incense in their meditation space before sitting to meditate.

Some people, including myself on occasion, light incense in their meditation space before sitting to meditate. The action of lighting incense, over time, anchors the smell of incense to the state of meditation in one’s mind, on a neurological level. Thus, when they smell it, the person becomes transported to a meditative state of mind. If you choose to do walking meditation, then find a good path or route which yields the least amount of distractions.

Lava Mala Beads

Step Two: Get Your Body Ready

Whatever position you wish to be in, get in it. If you are practicing sitting meditation or a form that will allow you shut your eyes, then go ahead and close your eyes. Relax your face muscles and give yourself a half-smile. A half-smile will help to relax the muscles around your eyes, in your forehead and cheeks. The half-smile will release dopamine in your brain which will build strong neural connections to peace and happiness over time.


Step Three: Meditate

Here’s what you have been waiting for: what my carnivorous friends would call “the meat and potatoes,” (personally I prefer the ‘humus and pita’). There are two primary ways you can do this Mindful Mala Meditation.

Keep in mind that, over time, you will want to customize your practice to fit your specific needs, comforts, and personality. The two basic methods are the Full Meditation and the Half Meditation.

The Full Meditation: 2 Rotations

mala1.jpgEyes closed (if you are sitting), half-smile. Hold the mala beads in your dominant hand (for me, it is the right hand) and let them drape over your middle finger. Hold the bead next to the “Guru Bead,” or the bead with the tassel on it (if you are unsure, the Guru Bead is the bead which is either a different color or material than the rest of the beads). Allow the Guru or tassel to hang over your middle finger, away from your body.

As you inhale, say to yourself, silently or aloud, “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in,” or “Breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in.” As you exhale, say to yourself “Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out” or “Breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out,” and as you exhale, flick or roll the bead over your middle finger away from your body. Over time you may wish to shorten it to “in,” and “out.”

We recommend beginners recite the full “Breathing in; I am aware that I am breathing in/out,” as to help maintain sharp focus during the length of each breath. If you lose concentration, don’t have a freak-out – gently bring your focus back to your breathing. Even highly experienced meditators break concentration from time to time.

When the Guru or tassel bead comes back into your hand after a rotation, flip the necklace or bracelet around so that the tassel or Guru bead hangs off of your middle finger and away from your body, like before. Begin counting your breath until the tassel/Guru comes all the way back around again. Now you are finished meditating, no alarms, bells or apps needed!


We call it “Two Rotations,” because we slowly rotate the necklace or bracelet around, one bead at a time until the tassel/Guru rotates itself back into our hand. Then, we rotate it around once more: Two Rotations.

Bodhi Seed Mala BeadsYou do not need to count the number of beads you flick, as the tassel/Guru serves as the timer. If you are curious, count the number of beads on your mala, so you know how many you “did” each time. Watch out for the ego, however. If you begin taking pride in high counting numbers and look down on those who count lower numbers (or don’t count at all, or don’t even meditate), then you have fallen into an “ego trap.” Meditation is not a game you can win; it is a practice. There are no meditation contests (if you find one, run far away!).

Half Meditation: One Rotation

Eyes closed, half-smile. Perform everything from the Full Meditation in the same way, with one exception. When you arrive at your Guru/tassel bead for the first time around, stop. Stopping when we hit the tassel/Guru the first time is why we call it “One Rotation,” because once that tassel is back in your hand, you are done!

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.

Step Four: Leaving Meditation

This step is short and easy. If your eyes are closed, slowly open them and allow your consciousness to fill the space. “Breathing in, I am aware of my meditation space. Breathing out, I smile at all which surrounds me.” If your eyes are already open then merely take a moment to follow your breath three times and say to yourself, “Breathing in, I am aware of my meditation space. Breathing out, I smile at all which surrounds me.”


Pulp Fiction - Did I Break Your Concentration

If maintaining sharp focus on your breathing proves strenuous, try counting one bead for each inhalation and one for each exhale. Do this only until you feel focused enough to resume counting solely exhales (as the exhale signifies the end of a full breath). Remember that meditation helps us to stop, calm, rest and look deeply. For my American and British readers, please emphasize the “stop,” in your practice.

To “stop” means no goal, no drive; you are not moving anywhere including in your mind. Stop. Do not flick the mala to get to the tassel, just flick the mala to flick the mala. If you flick mala to get to the Guru/tassel, then you are not flicking the mala at all. Your hand might be using mala, but you are elsewhere, thinking about the reward, the goal. No goal, just sit (or walk, or stand, and so forth).

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.

Yoga Relaxation Shivasana Zen Mala Beads

For more insight into mindfulness and meditation exercises, please take a look at Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s works and chats at http://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/


Healing the Body with Mindfulness of Breathing | Metta Refuge. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://mettarefuge.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/healing-the-body-with-mindfulness-o

Breathing | Plum Village. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/breathing/

Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness – COSA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cosa.k12.or.us/sites/default/files/docs/Derrick/katy_wagner3simple_w

Breathing | Plum Village. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/breathing/

Author: Jake Zelinger

Writer - Musician - Teacher - Meditation Instructor

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