Tibetan prayer beads, or malas, are strings of beads that have been used by Buddhists for thousands of years to help count prayers, which are known as mantras. Buddhist malas are usually composed of a circle of 108 beads which are used to complete 100 repetitions of a mantra. The extra 8 beads are used to account for any mistakes made during the repetitions.

The first step in learning how to meditate with prayer beads is to select a prayer or mantra. The most common Buddhist mantra is the ‘Om mani padme hum’, which is the prayer of the Buddhist saint Chenrezig, who is the embodiment of compassion. In saying the Om mantra, you are repeating the universal sounds which make up the complete teachings of the Buddha. You can also select another mantra, which can also be a single word such as ‘Buddha’ or ‘Om’.

Sit in a comfortable position with the back straight. Although many meditators sit on the floor in the lotus or half-lotus position, it’s not necessary to do so. You can sit on a chair or a bed, as well. If you’re not able to sit at all, you can meditate lying down. The main consideration is to be relatively comfortable and with a straight spine.
Hold your prayer beads in your left hand with the fingers on the first bead next to the large bead called the guru bead. Take several deep breaths until your breathing is even and relaxed. As an aid to concentration, you can synchronize your breathing with the mantra you’re reciting. For instance, you would inhale on the Om and then exhale. Inhale on the next syllable Ma and then exhale. Inhale on the next syllable Ni and then exhale. Repeat this process for each syllable of the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra. For each mantra repetition, you would hold a bead, before moving on to the next mantra repetition with the next bead. When you reach the guru bead, flip the mala over and begin again with the bead next to the guru bead.
When you finish your meditation, sit quietly for a moment and take a few deep breaths before standing and going back into the world.

Be gentle with yourself when you first begin meditating. The mind needs time and practice to become calm and centered. It doesn’t happen immediately. If you lose your focus on the mantra, simply begin again on the bead on which you lost your concentration. Meditation isn’t a competition, it’s a process with which the mind and heart slowly become focused and at peace.

Author's Bio: 

Japa Malas and Buddhist Prayer Beads are interesting to Sylvia Smelcer, who owns stores that supply instruments for meditation.