Category Archives: Meditation

Japa Malas: Working with Mala Beads

Japa Malas: Working with Mala Beads

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Japa Malas: Working with Mala Beads

by Cathy Douglas

Japa malas, often simply called mala beads, is a string of beads for counting repeated prayers, mantras, divine names or affirmations. It’s very much like to a Catholic rosary. The Buddhist or Hindu mala has 108 beads, plus a tasseled “guru” bead, the bead that starts and ends the repetitions. Some also have three “spacer” beads for conveniently dividing the recitations.

The Significance of Mala Beads:

The number 108 is significant to both Hindu and Buddhists, and it’s said there are 108 meanings of the number, including the number of deities, the 108 sins we must overcome, etc. The mala help connect the physical act of reciting the mantra with the spiritual benefits of the practice.

The mala itself is not passive, but actively transmutes energy, and wearers should be conscious of this power. For one thing, if one wears the mala as jewelry, it’s apt to collect all kinds of stray energy present in the everyday world–not all of it beneficial. Some even prefer to keep the mala in a special bag, and handle it only when in use. Whether you choose to keep your japa malas protected or to perform regular energetic cleansing, a mala well cared for absorbs considerable pure energy from use in sacred practice.

Cleaning & Cleansing Your Mala Beads:

Singing Bowl 2 - Mimosa Books & Gifts

This lovely singing bowl is a great way to enhance your meditation sessions, and can also be used to cleanse your mala as described in our article.

A mala shouldn’t need much physical cleansing. In fact, the oils of the skin that penetrate the material of the mala are said to help form a bond between the mala and its owner. But it may need energetic cleansing from time to time, especially if you wear it while under stress. Sound can purify the mala; either ring tingshas over it, or place it in a singing bowl and then softly strike the bowl. Another simple method is to expose the mala to either strong sun or moonlight. Typically malas are used in conjunction with incense for meditative/prayer/ritual purposes, which can also cleanse your mala beads. In addition, it’s considered strongly positive to have the mala blessed by a teacher, especially at first.

Working with mala Beads - Mimosa Books & GiftsHow to Use Japa Malas:

There are variations on ways of using japa malas, but here’s a good basic method: To count with the mala, most traditions specify you should hold the mala with your right hand. Using the thumb and the fourth finger to hold the mala, pull the beads toward you with your third finger, starting with the one next to the guru bead. Chant one repetition per bead until you return to the guru. (There are variations on which fingers to use, but most agree you should avoid using the index finger, which denotes ego.) If you’re doing more than 108 repetitions, when you get to the guru bead, turn the mala around and go back the other way. It’s important not to “run over” the guru bead. Here’s a short video to illustrate: How to use a Mala.

Malas are made from many materials, which carry different meanings:

Crystal: Crystal properties apply to the mala. Crystal has the benefit of being smooth, and substantial in weight.

Rudraksha seeds: Rudra is another name for Shiva, and aksha means eye. The tears of Lord Shiva destroy ego and attachment, and also promote healing, protection, and strong blood flow. These malas are best used by those leading a pure life.

Bodhi seeds: Boddhi (holy) tree is another name for the Sacred Fig, the tree the Buddha sat under when he gained enlightenment. As you might guess, the words buddha and boddhi related, both having to do with enlightenment.

Tulsi wood: Also called Sacred Basil. Hindus consider this plant–more a large shrub than a tree–to be a living goddess. A tulsi mala clears the aura and strengthens devotion, and is specially holy to Vishnu. Tulsi tea an elixir of life which helps with stress, pain, adaptation; tulsi wood contains many of these same properties.

Sandalwood: The scent of sandalwood conveys inner peace. A mala made of sandalwood is good for deepening meditation, calming, and seeking after the within. Real sandalwood is growing rarer. Beads carved of real sandalwood are oblong, smooth and somewhat uneven–never rough textured or perfectly round. The scent of real sandalwood is subtle, but it remains present in the wood as the mala ages.

Lotus Seed Mala - Mimosa Books & Gifts

Lotuses and their seeds symbolize overcoming hardship and adversity, and this 30-inch mala works as a great reminder to stay strong and persevere.

Lotus seeds: Lotus petals deflect water, and so the lotus mala symbolizes the “falling away” of worldly things the understanding of impermanence. Since lotus seeds are light, they darken with age even more than other materials. Perhaps that’s why they symbolize the steady growth of wisdom and power.

Rosewood: A mala made of rosewood excels in healing the self and others, as well as the manifestation of whatever is needed for healing.

Bone: Yak bone is a common material for Tibetan malas, and encourages the owner to contemplate mortality. Accepting the reality of impermanence helps us focus on living in the present moment. Sometimes bone beads are carved into little skulls. Using its bone for a sacred item like a mala honors the yak.

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The Ha Prayer, or Aligning the Triple Soul

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Category: Meditation, Paganism
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My Version of the Ha Prayer, the Sacred Dove, or Aligning the Triple Soul

by Mari Powers

In many traditions of the Craft, and in many new and old Pagan religions, we acknowledge and recognize the triple form of many Goddesses, and some Gods. In the Feri tradition, we believe in the tripartite nature of our own souls. This mirrors the beliefs of the indigenous people of Hawaii, who practice the native religion involving the Kahuna, and in the ancient religions of Egypt, where people also were believed to have a triple soul. Even Hinduism has a belief in the three parts of the human soul. To my knowledge, only the Feri branch of the Craft believes this, and it came to the founders, Victor and Cora Anderson, from the Kahuna tradition. Each Feri teacher I have read teaches the Ha Prayer to help us align our triple soul. In true Feri “tradition”, each has written it a little differently. When I began to practice it, it changed a little for me as well, and it is this version I will share here.

Aligning the triple soul is somewhat like centering and grounding, yet it is also much more. It gives us the energy to work our true will, as our child self and emotional body openly communicates with our thinking self, and for lack of a better term, our “over soul” as well. It feeds us what has been called manna, chi, and the life energy from the multiverse itself, to our body, heart, mind and soul. Then it gets them all working together and creates harmony in ourselves and our will behind our prayers.

Though we refer the triple soul, and sometimes the triple will, we feed the body first. The number four is a number sacred in the ancient Hawaiian religion, so the aligning our tripartite soul involves breathing and holding the breath in rounds of four. This is the way I do this exercise:

I take three or four slow clearing breaths and clear my mind. I then begin breathing in the life force to the count of four, hold it for four counts, breath out for four counts and hold the emptiness in my lungs for another count of four before beginning another round of breathing. I do the whole breathing cycle four times.

Now for the rest of the exercise, that requires visualization and energy work. On the first round of breathing, I feed my physical body. I draw energy from the earth and air into my body on the inhale, on the hold, and on the exhale. On the second empty four count hold before my next breath, I energetically bond the energy in my body for strength and health.

This is different than a lot of breathing exercises in that the exhale feeds me. Many breathing exercises, like cleansing breaths, involve a sort of in the good and out with the bad type of visualization. For me, the inhale, the first hold of the energy, and exhale all feed me. The second holding to the count of four with empty lungs, fixes the energy in place.

On the second round of breathing, I feed my emotional body. I visualize this as a close aura of blue light energy, about two inches all around my physical body. This body in Feri is sometimes called the Fetch, the Sticky One, or the inner child. I draw energy from the blue fire in the belly of the earth and air into my body on the inhale, on the hold, and on the exhale. On the second empty four count hold before my next breath, I energetically bond the energy in my inner aura for strength and health.

On the third round of breathing, I feed my mental body, or thinking self. I visualize this as a luminous golden light egg all around me, extending out a foot or so from my physical body. As I fix this energy in place, it empowers my mind, (and second part of my triple soul), with clarity and the ability to focus my thoughts.

On the fourth and final breath, in what may be one, or the beginning of four rounds of breathing, I visualize a white dove above my head. This dove represents my connection to the greater multiverse, and my own personal over soul. I draw in air and waves of manna like water, then lift my head back, and blow up and out the combined manna collected into my sacred dove above my crown chakra.

If I am only doing one round of breathing, I begin blowing with a “Ha”, and finish emptying my lungs, by blowing upwards through my mouth in a breath like the wind. If I am doing a round of four breaths times four, I simply blow the air like the wind to my sacred dove on the first, second and third rounds, and save the “Ha” sound for the fourth and last round.

After the final breath with the “Ha” sound, I make a prayer. I then say, “What is this flower above my head?” (For me it is almost always the Lotus Flower, though sometimes it is the Rose.)  I ask, “What is the work this Gods would have me do?” I contemplate the answer(s). I then state, “I would know myself in all my parts. My triple soul is aligned. I am whole”. If I need to verbalize a specific prayer, I do. Then I say, “It is done.”

The Ha Prayer is used to align the triple soul. Any prayer said with it acquires all the manna gathered and shared. If there is no specific prayer, this alignment gives me a deep sense of relaxation, a connection to the greater multiverse and a sense of being whole. If there is a prayer, I have the same sense, yet also know that my prayer has been heard and will be answered in a positive way. When my triple soul is aligned, all prayers are good and have power.

Most of the time, I do this without a specific prayer in mind and verbalized, and simply enjoy the benefits of increased manna and a sense of relaxation; I am in alignment and at oneness.

(c) 2014 Mari Powers

Image via Wikimedia Commons: Contemplation, by Ghassan Salman Faidi

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Two Basic Mantras

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indian om   or  Tibetan om


This is the most sacred mantra, which is regarded as the primal sound in the birth of the cosmos.

Its symbol is OM, but the actual mystic sound heard in the deep meditative state is A-U-M, which appears to correspond to the three elements that sprang up out of creation:  Spirit-mind-body. A stands for the initial surge of emanation; U for preserving or nurturing it; and M for absorption, not dissolution. It also stands for Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, the Hindu trinity.

When articulated or chanted, it is cleansing or purifying, and activates certain latent forces in the human body, and helps transcend worldly problems. Hence, as the holiest of all mantras, OM must precede all other mantras, otherwise the latter would not have the presence of divine power or force. To make any work successful, the OM mantra must be invoked before the work is started.

It is regarded to exist before and after creation. It is imperishable and therefore the symbol of the Infinite. It resides and is present in silence, and represents the entire manifested and unmanifested world.

om mani padme hum


Om Mani Padme Hum is the most common mantra in Tibet. It is recited by Buddhists, painted on rocks, and carved on prayer wheels. The essence of all the teachings of the Buddha are said to be contained in this mantra. Literally meaning “Aum to the Jewel in the Lotus,” this Tibetan mantra is said to invoke compassion. Tibetan people and almost all Buddhists believe that chanting this mantra of Chenrezig (Bodhisatva of Compassion) helps to rescue them from the sea of suffering and to achieve Buddhahood. Repeating it is believed to purify the mind and body. The mantra is also used for protection.

OM helps you to achieve perfection in the practice of generosity. Repetition of Om helps us maintain mental and emotional calmness, and to overcome obstacles.

MANI (jewel) helps you to perfect the practice of pure ethics, tolerance and patience.

PADME (lotus) helps you to achieve perfection in the practice of perseverance and concentration.

HUM (inseparability, purity) helps you to achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom.

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“A Short Introduction to the Long History of the Tibetan Singing Bowl” by Cathy Douglas

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An ancient Buddhist prophecy says, “When the iron bird flies, the Dharma will be spread to the west.” Most people who come into Mimosa and try their hand with Tibetan singing bowls are very much attracted to the sound, whether they’ve got any use for Buddhism or not. The funny thing is, this fits perfectly with Buddhist understanding of the singing bowls’ purpose.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Beyond the use of singing bowls to signal the beginning and end of meditation, devout Buddhists use them in what they call “sound teaching.” This nonverbal teaching also incorporates conch shells, tingshas, and drums, each of these instruments having its own teaching. According to Lama Lobsang Leshe, the bowl’s message is “about broadness and emptiness” — not a mantra so much as an “emptiness teaching,” a transmission said to come from directly from the Buddha without needing words. Some monks even hold to a custom of never talking about the bowls, lest words themselves distort the essence of the teaching. It’s the purity of sound itself, they say, that allows the seeds of Dharma to sprout.

A few ancient bowls are revered as holy relics. One, purported to be the begging bowl of an earlier incarnation of the Buddha, resides at the Drepung Monastery. When someone plays it, it’s said you can hear the quality of that person’s karma through the quality of sound the bowl allows them to produce.

The most traditional singing bowls are hand-hammered, made of seven metals that correspond to the seven visible heavenly bodies: gold for the Sun, silver for the Moon, mercury for Mercury (duh), copper for Venus, iron for Mars, tin for Jupiter, and lead for Saturn.

But the prophecy mentioned above talks about “iron.” And truly, it’s the iron in Tibetan singing bowls that separates them from any other kind. They use meteorites–chunks of iron that fall to earth from outer space, which they quite naturally refer to as “metal from the heavens.” Since Tibet is at a higher altitude than anywhere else on Earth, larger, more intact meteorites fall there. Less atmosphere and thinner air brings Tibet, literally, “closer to the Heavens.”

In the course of time people, have invented other types of bowls, such as crystal bowls and the Japanese rin gongs. Nowadays, their use may or may not be connected to Buddhist traditions. People in the west use them to mark transitions, not necessarily in a religious context. Singing bowls have found a place in classrooms, yoga studios, therapy offices, and even corporations. The lamas mostly seem to think this is a positive thing–a sign that the Dharma is coming into its own, spout in all places and among all peoples.
Here’s the link to a fascinating short film about the hand-crafting of singing bowls in a village in Bengal, India: Watch Video (Youtube)

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“Happy Postures: Some Guidance for Choosing a Meditation Cushion or Bench” by Cathy Douglas

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The Buddha said that meditation flows through four postures: walking, standing, sitting and lying down. But most of the time when we think of meditation, it’s sitting meditation that comes to mind. And for those of us who are less experienced, seated postures are the usual way to start. Some young people may need little in the way of support, but in our culture very few people spend much time sitting on the ground or floor; by the time we’re in our thirties (if not sooner) support can be very helpful for meditators who are ready to sit for a long period of time. That’s where a cushion or bench can help. cushiond


Cushions we carry at Mimosa come with three fillings: buckwheat hulls, kapok fiber, and air. Inflatable cushions are most useful for travel, because they take up little space when deflated. For your main cushion, though, you’ll probably want to choose between kapok and buckwheat.

Kapok has a similar feel to cotton batting, but comes from a more sustainable source. Kapok-filled cushions are more stable and softer than buckwheat, but do not fit to the body in the same way. They hold their shape well over time. Kapok is also hypoallergenic.

Buckwheat hulls are a byproduct of agriculture. This filling forms to your contours, though to some extent this depends on how full the cushion is; a well-stuffed cushion will be firmer, while one that’s less densely packed will have more give to it. Since the buckwheat cushions we sell zip open, you have the option of adding or removing hulls for a custom fit. If you want your cushion more stuffed, or need to re-stuff one that’s flattened out with time, we sell bags of loose hulls.

Cushion Styles

Zabuton: A zabuton is sort of like a mini-futon. Most people use a zabuton underneath another meditation cushion. They can be handy if you’re meditating on a hard and/or cold floor, but are probably not necessary if the room has carpeting. Or, if you’re flexible and just want a soft surface to sit on, you could use a zabuton without a cushion on top. All our zabutons have kapok filling.

Zafu: This is the classic, round meditation cushion. It provides good back support, and puts you high enough off the ground to reduce stress on your knees. Zafus come in a variety of styles, with your choice of buckwheat or kapok stuffing. One great advantage of the zafu is its versatility: you can sit on the flattened side cross-legged, semi-kneeling, or with legs bent to one side, and you can also straddle the cushion turned on its side. If you’re going to sit for long periods of time, changing posture occasionally can help you stay comfortable, and thus keep your attention focused on your practice–not on your legs falling asleep!

Crescent: The crescent, or “cosmic cushion,” is shaped sort of like a chubby mustache. It supports the upper legs as well as the bottom–an extra level of support that can be helpful for those with knee issues. It’s angled to tilt the body forward slightly, making the back slightly rounded instead of stiff. Crescent cushions work only for the lotus position.

Meditation benches

These wood or fiberboard benches sit about six to ten inches off the floor, to provide back support and reduce strain on the knees. Some have a rounded, rocking bottom, while others sit flat on the floor. With most styles, you have the option of adding a tie-on cushion.

Peace Bench: With this bench, you have the choice of sitting in lotus position or putting your legs directly under your body. The Peace Bench sits flat on the floor. It can be easily folded down for storage or transport, and is made from 100% recycled wood fiberboard, with straps made from cotton webbing.

Straddle Meditation Bench: This new addition to our selection of meditation support combines the stable support of a bench with the comfort of a cushion. It’s angled to provide proper alignment of back, hips and legs. You sit with your legs to the sides of the bench, and find the right height by sitting higher or lower on the cushion — an elegantly simple way to create a comfortable place to help you focus on your meditation. You can also use it in a cross-legged position, by sitting at the lower end.

Pi bench: The supports for these benches are nearer the middle, and they’re rounded to make them rock slightly underneath you, so that your back position isn’t totally fixed. They’re best to use for a semi-kneeling position, with legs folded under the bench, but they’ll also support a modified lotus position.

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“Yoga Meditation” by Beth Wortzel

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There are probably as many reasons to learn meditation as there are people who take up this practice. Thankfully, there are also a multitude of approaches and techniques so each of us may find a practice that suits us best.

I will not try to speak of all of these possibilities, but simply share the essential elements of that practice which I myself know best both as a practitioner for over 35 years and as a teacher in the tantra yoga tradition. I came to the practice of meditation seeking a way out of the confines of my everyday mind, which I knew were limiting my understanding of life and my purpose here. I surely found this and more. That ‘more’ turned out to be the path to self-realization.

Yoga as a spiritual science incorporates a wide range of practices from yoga postures to chanting, dietary and ethical guidelines and more. All of these provide a foundation and support for the core practice of yoga meditation itself. In fact, the eight “limbs” of yoga practice begin with ethical principles by which to live one’s daily life and which were often, in ancient times, the focus of years of practice in order to perfect one’s character and lifestyle in preparation for the other “limbs”. The next include the preparation of the body and mind through asana and pranayama or yoga postures and breathing techniques. All of these supporting practices then facilitate the silent meditation practice which the final four limbs indicate.

The first of these is withdrawal. In order to ‘go beyond’, yoga meditation teaches us to go beyond the distractions of our day to day life by pulling back the field of awareness from the body, the realm of the senses , and also from the realm of the day to day mind comprised of memories and mundane thoughts.

Achieving this enables the next stage—concentration or the ability to focus the mind at will on our object of concentration. Yogis use mantra for this purpose. Not only is a yoga mantra an ancient Sanskrit word or phrase on which to focus the mind, but it also has a meaning and subtle vibration that uplifts consciousness by bringing it into harmony with the mantra and its meaning. So we use mantras with expansive, spiritual meaning.

The next limb is meditation itself. Through the process of concentration on a suitable mantra, we arrive at that unbroken flow of awareness of the ultimate Goal. We are very near in our experience of Ultimate Reality or Supreme Self.

And finally, we merge with that upon which we meditate. This final limb goes beyond practice. It is the final attainment of yoga which means “union”, union with the Self as that which we have always been and which is the heart and soul of the entire creation.

Thus yoga meditation is a journey home to our true self, to our Source which is the same in all beings. Once we know that oneness from our own experience, service to the Supreme is service to the whole world and we continue meditation as a service while we reach out with love and compassion to all others.

Tantra yoga, in particular, does not encourage us to withdraw from daily life in order to attain or preserve spiritual awareness and growth but rather to attain realization in the midst of life. For all of life is Divine and not to be shunned, but to be seen and served as a manifestation of that divine Reality itself.

About Beth Wortzel u78Ah9rSuf-ardo6TFMf1qHdO8oja4JPH0sMRHIicPnHY4iV7zQNcf5Q7aYR2QQjjkRMmpDQkEzB9LllToxS-qonMCm5rLB0EMraiB610IdQoFdmpDs

Beth Wortzel is a yoga acharya or teacher offering individual mantra initiation and other teachings in the tantra yoga tradition. In addition to being a meditation teacher, she is a musician who, along with other members of Jaya, leads spiritual chanting or kiirtan regularly. In her other life, she is a psychotherapist at Harmonia Madison Center for Psychotherapy and has practiced there for almost 30 years.

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