Discovering mala beads with Chant Malas

Discovering mala beads with Chant Malas

Yogamatters is delighted to be introducing a selection of mala beads and mala meditation kits from Chant Malas to its range this month. You can have a look at that selection here. For those of you who are fascinated by, or maybe unfamiliar with, mala beads, we caught up with the woman behind Chant Malas, Helen Kathleen, and two of her Chant Malas ambassadors, Emma Newlyn and Linda Dixon, to explain the significance and use of mala beads in their own lives and practice.

Helen Kathleen started practising yoga around 9 years ago whilst training to be an English teacher.  She came to the practice for the movement and asana, but quickly found that she wanted to know more surrounding the philosophy and teaching of the eight limbs of yoga.  In 2012-13, she completed her 200hr yoga teacher training with Claire Missingham. After training with Charlotta Martinus at Teen Yoga, Helen began teaching yoga to teens and her fellow school teachers at work.

Her chanting practice helped her through pregnancy, a tough day job and the days when nothing seemed to go right.  She now tries to meditate every evening before bed and whenever she can in the mornings.  She finds that it helps her to set her intentions and find her ‘earth’ as well as manage her time effectively. Helen started Chant around 31/2 years ago, around the birth of her first child.  

I had already begun using mantra meditation to help with the demands of school teaching and the long hours that are often required of teachers.  At first, I was wire-wrapping crystals, making bracelets and more ‘simple’ pieces, but I soon found myself drawn to mala-making.  I found that the stringing and knotting came very naturally to me and it wasn’t long before I was completely hooked on it.  I give up teaching in July 2017 to focus on my business as it was becoming to impossible a day job, Chant and two children!  I don’t regret the decision and am finding a new kind of clarity and freedom in my designs.  Helen Kathleen

Helen designs and creates all of the mala beads in her Chant Malas collection.

But what are mala beads exactly and what are they used for?

Helen: A mala is a set of 108 beads that are strung together on a cotton, silk or nylon cord.  Traditionally, your teacher or Guru would give you a mantra that would help you with the aspect of your practice that you are working on.  For example, if you are struggling with communicating your truth, you might be given a Saraswati (Goddess of communication and said to be the creatrix of the Sanskrit language) mantra.  You would then recite this mantra as many times as your teacher or Guru tells you to – usually 108 times – with the use of a mala.  Each time your fingers touch a bead as you go around the mala, you recite the mantra. 

Chant Malas Ambassador Linda Dixon:  I use mala beads to sit. To me, wearing my mala signifies I am ‘starting’ – that I am leaving the external behind and entering a new mindset. Time to practice, whatever that might look like on any given day.

Chant Malas Ambassador Emma Newlyn: I use mala beads for Japa, which is the repetition of a mantra, using the beads on the mala to keep count. Using the same mala each time brings a very ritualistic aspect to the practice, and I feel it creates a certain energy in and around the mala. This is one of my favourite forms of ‘meditation’, as I find it a wonderful way to focus my mind on one point. 

In every daylife, I wear rudraksha beads, which are actually made of the dried seeds of an Elaeocarpus Ganitrus tree. They’re said to be ‘Shiva’s tears’, and are known to help create a ‘cocoon’ of energy around the wearer, and protect from negative energy.  

All three of these women have discovered the value of chant and meditation in their own lives.

Chant is an incredible way into longer meditation practices as it helps to focus the mind and come right into the present.  It is said that reciting mantras cleanses ‘toxins’ from the system, leaving space for inner peace and a heightened state of consciousness.  The Sanskrit used in mantras is said to contain very fine vibrations that will access that part of your psyche or spirit.  Maintaining a daily mantra and meditation practice has helped me to manage my time more effectively, to find strength where perhaps I believed there to be none, to find balance when life becomes overwhelming.  My main aim with Chant Malas is to pass on this practice and encourage people to use their malas in this way.  Helen Kathleen

For both Emma and Linda, becoming an ambassador for Chant Malas was a real privilege. Linda had practised at the same studio as Helen in Clapham and they were also on a self development programme together. Emma met Helen as a retailer at the Brighton Yoga Festival in 2016, and during the chaotic set-up time just before the festival opened, Helen gifted Emma a rose quartz crystal, which she kept with her all day – and everything went smoothly and amazingly! Emma and Linda find it easy to recommend Chant Malas to those they come into contact with who are interested in mala beads.

Recommending Chant Malas is easy because I believe wholeheartedly in Helen and what she does. If I see anyone wearing a mala or expressing an interest, I will recommend her in a flash and was doing so before she asked me to be an ambassador.  Linda Dixon

Each of the malas in the Chant Mala collection is created to tell a story. Linda’s was custom made for her by Helen and is an ‘in my roots’ mala with vital grounding energy (much needed as a mum to an active toddler!). Emma uses the ‘just as you are’ mala in her practice, because it reminds her of the kindness people can show towards others and also because being ‘just as you are’ is something that resonates with her very much on a personal level.

We asked Helen to explain the process of designing and creating each chant mala in more detail.

Helen: I design and create everything in the Chant Mala collection myself. Firstly, I’ll get an idea from nature (I live by the sea and on the doorstep of the South Downs, so we are always out in nature), my moon-led yoga sadhana, a goddess or teaching that I might be working with or reading about.  I’ll then do lots of research to ensure I’m capturing the essence of this intention.  When I had the idea for the Medusa mala, I wanted to tell her story as it was before it changed hands.  I researched her story for around two weeks before I put a design together.  I’ll then look at stones and materials and decide what will work best with telling this story.  I’ll then sit down at my bead board, put on some music and start designing the piece.  Sometimes this comes very quickly, sometimes it can take days, as I like to ensure that the final piece will honour the intention, teaching or Goddess in focus.

On the Chant Malas website, Helen uses the phrase ‘I do the worrying so that you don’t have to’. We were fascinated by that and asked her exactly what she meant by the phrase.

Helen: I work very hard to ensure that everything I source has been done in a way that has as little effect on our earth as possible.  This is something that is the driving force behind my company and something that is a constant practice for me.  I source my rudraksha seeds and Sandalwood from a couple of sustainable, managed plantations in India and work closely with my suppliers to source beautiful, natural materials that have had as little impact on the environment as possible.  My cotton tassels are sourced from my suppliers in Scotland and the cord I use is created in Germany.  I source my charms from a woman in the US who has set up a cooperative in Thailand where the silversmiths are paid a fair wage and have good working conditions.  I only use natural stones that have been cut rather than heat-treated or dyed and love to use raw materials in my designs.  I work tirelessly with my suppliers to ensure that I only ever use conflict-free stones (one of the reasons I no longer use Lapis Lazuli).  As a Vegan brand, I never use coral, shell, wool, silk or any other product which may contain any kind of animal residue.

I create everything from scratch at my kitchen table.  I try to create as little waste as possible – recycling packaging, bulk ordering everything to limit air miles, packing all pieces in reusable or recyclable materials.  All Chant malas and jewellery come in a little jute drawstring bag that is hard-wearing and can be re-used.  I am always looking for ways to improve my company and my processes so as to be of benefit for all.

It all sounds rather wonderful, doesn’t it? Helen also runs a Charity of the Quarter project as a way of giving something back to charities that either work with the countries that she sources from or who do very important work in this country.  She chooses charities doing work that she is inspired by, often to do with women’s empowerment and child protection, as this is something close to her own heart.

If you are new to mala beads and the practice that accompanies them, then maybe now is the time to discover the significance of mala beads for yourself. We asked ambassadors Linda and Emma for some words of advice.

What would you say to someone who had never used mala beads before?

Linda Dixon: Like a crystal, browse and see which one you are drawn to. How it looks, which colours you like. Don’t read too much into what each one is ‘for’ or its benefits. Choose a mala because you love it.

Emma Newlyn: Give it a try! Like anything, you don’t really know how you feel about something until you do it. If you find meditation difficult, try mantra or japa using the mala beads first, or wear them as a way to remind yourself of what your Yoga and meditation practice means to you.

Once you have selected your own personal mala, it’s important to then find the right mantra for you. We asked Helen for a final piece of advice.

Finally, how would someone buying one of your beautiful malas know how to find the right mantra for them?

Helen: Traditionally, a mantra is given to a person by their teacher or Guru and will be based upon the aspect of their practice that they are working on.  If someone does not have either a regular teacher or a Guru, it can be helpful to read up on the subject to find a mantra that will work for them.  I love Awakening Shakti by Sally Kempton as she gives a number of mantras for each Goddess.  Just chanting the seed sound of ‘Aum’ can be very therapeutic though.  Researching the bija (seed) sounds for each chakra can be excellent if there is a particular chakra you are working on.  For example, if you are feeling ungrounded and unsteady, perhaps working on your root chakra would be of benefit and so the seed sound of ‘LAM’ could be recited.

If you’re just starting out on your mala and mantra journey, we wish you well. Enjoy finding the right mala and mantra for you.

Enjoy the journey they take you on.