hippy how-to: make a mala (part 1)

Jewelry is not my thing.

To be honest, I’m not very good at wearing it, and the idea of making it has never really crossed my mind. I had always imagined jewelry making as similar to coloring one of those overzealous adult coloring book pages: it requires meticulous attention to detail while dealing with a serious amount of structure and monotony. And let me tell you, adult coloring books do for me the exact opposite of what they are supposed to—they stress me the fuck out.

In fact, I would choose solitary confinement over perpetual balls of tangled necklace chains and the completing adult coloring books any day.

But I digress.

My wrist mala is beginning to wear a bit thin, and I imagine it will break any day (I fucking hope so*). So I began thinking about my next mala—what I wanted it to stand for and how I would wear it—especially after I started following the beautiful and talented Gillie Wrenn on IG (@zazabeads). I basically fell in love with her garnet mala. (It’s worth noting that I should have bought that one, because I will NEVER EVER attempt to make a garnet mala again—keep reading.)

But because I’m me, I decided it couldn’t be that hard (it is), and that I could likely research it online (you can) and make one just as pretty (up for debate).

After some Googling, I came across this article from The Chalkboard, which proved to be pretty helpful, because not only did it reassure me I could make my own, but it told me a little more about what makes a mala, well, a mala.

So let me pause here, and give you the basics:

  • Mala = Buddhist Prayer Beads (Essentially the Yogi’s Rosary) + Sanskrit for Garland
  • Orientation: Buddhist Tradition (Really Old)
  • Has 108 beads traditionally (possible reasons for this via The Chalkboard include: 108 energy lines that converge to form the heart chakra, 108 Indian Goddess names, the diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth, there are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet…each having a masculine and feminine (i.e., Shiva and Shakti)…and 54 times 2 is 108)
  • Used traditionally for counting mantra repetitions when meditating and setting intentions
  • Currently, malas are generally trending—from the runway to the yoga mat

I also learned that some malas, the traditional ones, especially, are hand-knotted, meaning that between each bead there is a knot of cord versus the beads simply being strung one after the other. And because, again, I’m me, I decided I would not only make a mala but a hand-knotted mala on my first attempt.**

My next step was to see if there was anywhere I could just buy a kit to DIY a mala, since there are many different components you have to choose: the regular beads, the counter beads, the guru bead, the cord, the tassel, etc. (The Chalkboard explains this a bit more.)

The answer is obviously yes. However, many of them seemed too elementary for me (the novice but high-and-mighty mala maker). But, I did stumble onto a website that not only had a DIY kit that seemed really authentic.

But, again, I’m me, so I opted not to use the DIY kit, mainly because I wanted to vary my stones more than options allowed. However, I did order everything to make my mala, minus one type of bead (the-garnet-turned-red-jasper-odyssey that I will explain in future), from The Shade of the Bodhi Tree site, and I have to say that Jason, the owner, was always super responsive and offered some seriously kickass instructions that were really helpful in the trenches.

I definitely chased a few rabbits down crystal-and-gemstone-use holes while I was doing my research. I am even newer to crystals and gemstones than I am to malas, and the options are endless. So I would encourage you, as you do begin to do your own research—not just if you want to DIY your mala but if you want to buy one—to think about what it is that you want your mala to mean. What intention are you going to give? And then consider what stones resonate with that intention (Google searches help). Because you’ll need to know what sort of stones you want for your beads and colors for cords and tassels before you order supplies.

In general, I wanted my mala to stand for strength, to open and protect my heart chakra, and to increase intuition via my third-eye chakra. (Yeah, I am trying to learn about the chakras too.) I loved the idea of incorporating garnet, since it is a strong stone, focused on courage, and my birthstone (January).

At the beginning of my journey, this is what I had decided I wanted my mala to look like and be made of:


Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Hippy How-To: Make a Mala series where I tell you a bit more about my intention for this mala, the meanings of the beads I chose (and why my mala now contains no garnet stones), and the process (including why your big toe will be extremely helpful).

*When a mala breaks, some people (including me) take it to mean that the lesson you were supposed to learn with it
or the intention you gave it has taken root.

**In hindsight I may consider adding “making precision knots” to my list of things
to which I would prefer solitary confinement instead of.

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