Think of mala beads – strings of precious materials typically used to meditate – and think of a time long lost; mountainous pathways with grooves well-trodden by the feet of those infinitely wiser and calmer than we’ll ever be.
That’s what I thought about when Leah Braithwaite emailed me about her company, Free Soul Malas. I was, at the time, sitting in an almost too-cozy coffee shop in Williamsburg, New York, looking out as waves of stressed-out people made their morning commute through fat flakes of snow.
Surely, I mused, a mere necklace couldn’t make a dent in the worried, chaotic lives of these people. And shit – could it even make a dent in mine?
Fast forward to today’s date; same city, same set of eyes, but this time, I’m sitting outside on a wooden bench in the West Village, red and yellow tulips blowing in a breeze that’s not quite aggressive, but also makes you notice it – like a slap of consciousness in a city that can be very, very overwhelming.
I’m wearing my mala, too – it’s wrapped around my wrist thrice, hitting my carpal bones each time I type like a gentle tap from a good friend, a yoga teacher, or family. Bottom line – I like my mala, and during several weeks of what could have been interpreted as chaos, it’s been something I’ve really enjoyed having around. Plus, it’s a beautiful accessory that – for those sceptical of positive energies, karma and the like – could very well start off as fashion, and evolve into fate.
But first, I’ll address the main question – What is a mala bead? We talked to Leah (who is effervescent, connected, and chill, by the way) to help you truly understand this tool – how it helped her, us, and many others manifest a life that supports good things.
MOM: We know mala beads are old, but ideas and traditions of the past are constantly adapted and modified. What would you consider the current use of mala beads to be?
L: Mala beads have been used for thousands of years in Easter Traditions as a way to help focus the mind to enter deeper states of meditation. Now, you’ll see that Malas are used to bring back to mind an intention, to serve as a daily reminder to make conscious decisions.
How long have you been familiar with, and working with the Mala beads?
I was first introduced to Mala beads while I was teaching English in China over a decade ago, in a small village near a Buddhist Monastery. I saw these peculiar wooden beads carried by the monks and noticed that not just them, but some of my students wore these beads. My students explained them to me as “Buddha beads,” something to help you “live better.” I bought myself a simple set of date wood Mala beads as a memento of my travels before heading back home to Canada. While I knew very little about their true intention, I did feel more peaceful and grounded wearing them. Fast forward to the fall of 2014, when I was completing my Yoga Teacher Training and really solidifying my personal meditation practice. [It was then that] mala beads came back into the picture. Studying meditation techniques on my own and learning about Chakras (the energy centers in our bodies) in my teacher training made me realize how much I would benefit from a mala, and one that was tailored to me. I had a very specific idea of what I wanted in my head, but couldn’t find one that fit the bill, so after quite a while of searching I decided to make my own.
What would you consider the biggest misconception to be about malas?
That you have to be a yogi to wear them! Or, that you have to meditate or pray with them. ‘Mala’ simply means garland or wreath in Sanskrit, and while there are spiritual and devotional traditions behind it, you don’t have to be religious or practice yoga to wear one.
For someone who has just purchased a mala necklace or bracelet – what do you reccomend they do? What are their first steps with this new object?
The first thing I recommend is to take a moment to connect with the intention of the mala. Whether you bought it yourself or were given it as a gift, taking a moment to connect with the purpose of it will help to plant those seeds of intention into your subconscious. Every Free Soul Mala comes with a description of the energetic qualities and intentions of the beads, so really, it’s as simple as taking a quiet moment to be still – mindfully read through the information with your mala in hand and allow your vibrations to sync.
Whoa, that sounds deep. Are malas for everyone?
Yes! Anyone can wear a mala! Everything is made up of energy and emits an energetic vibration. Each mala is made of materials specifically chosen to help support specific energy centers and intentions. The vibration emitted from the materials chosen in a mala will have a effect on your own energy systems. Regardless of whether or not you use it for yoga, meditation or prayer though, everyone can benefit from the kind of energetic support malas offer.
Is there a certain kind of yoga, or meditative practise that is best complimented by the mala beads?
Mala beads have been traditionally used in a type of meditation called Japa, where a mantra or sacred name is repeated and counted along each bead in the mala. This practice helps to focus the mind to bring peace and balance. Meditate with your mala by sitting in stillness for a few minutes, aligning yourself with your intentions. This is a great way to start the day and wearing your mala will serve as a reminder when the day gets hectic. In your yoga practice it can serve as a visual reminder of focus and support you at the top of your mat.
What’s next for you and Free Soul Malas?
Free Soul Malas has really been sort of a divine evolution. We’re turning one this month and continuing to grow. We will be expanding our collections to include some new designs in the summer and are excited to see what year 2 has in store for us!
Leah Braithwaite is somebody who embodies what Adds & I at Mind Over Model strive to impart to all of you gorgeous human beings, which is that yes – it’s cool and lovely to be connected to who you are, to be healthy, to be the best version of yourself. But it’s also important to know that this level of consciousness, this kind of balance… takes time. During this journey, we’d love to be the *chill* voice reminding you that every single step in your life is one that takes you somewhere – a piece of knowledge, a brick in the wall of a new career, a sharp “no” directing you onwards, upwards. If you have faith in the process and work hard, something beautiful can be made of all the jagged pieces we encounter in life, and that’s really stunning to understand. Before beginning Free Soul Malas, Leah was a dental hygienist – it was a job she really enjoyed, but it wasn’t her calling – she realized this upon suffering an injury which caused her to leave that former source of stability. With that came tremendous risk – but also, tremendous growth.
All we’re saying is, trust the journey, follow your gut. You have no idea where it will take you, and perhaps clutching a beautiful piece of art from someone who not only understands this, but has lived it, will help you when things get rough.
Mads & Adds
Photos care of Free Soul Malas & Madison Schill