There’s a pun in the title! Meditation is all about thoughts — or so we might think! And in some ways that might be true. But being with our thoughts (let alone trying to slow them down or even change them!) can be difficult and abstract. How about we give ourselves a helping hand — quite literally — and make the practice easier to grasp (another pun, sorry).
Mudras and mala beads
Involving part of the physical body can be a great way of keeping your mind more in the present moment. It can offer emotional steadiness if you are prone to anxiety in meditation or support you in focussing on an uplifting intention which will help you feel better overall, long after you’ve got up from the meditation cushion.
I often teach students to use a mudra when meditating, a gesture with the hand that helps direct energy or attention, as in the picture above. It’s subtle, but this can be a simple way of giving yourself a helping hand.
Another more obvious way is by using your hands is to count the repetitions through your meditation practice by touching the three parts of your fingers with the thumb. You can simply count repetitions of the breath cycle (can you get to 12 without your concentration dispersing?) or perhaps repetitions of a mantra or affirmation (om namah shivaya or “I am in peace” or “gratitude”, or whatever has meaning for you individually).
Another way of using the hands is the practice of Japa mālā. This is a form of meditation using a string of beads known as a mālā (a Sanskrit word meaning ‘garland’), instead of fingers, to count repetitions of a mantra which are ‘muttered’ (japa) slightly under one’s breath. A mālā traditionally has 108 beads which can create a short and manageable practice time (depending on the length of your mantra of course), or you could choose to flip the mālā and start a new cycle of 108 and continue on longer if you prefer.
Counting repetitions slows down thoughts and the respiratory rate which can bring about many benefits such as pain relief, lowering blood pressure, and increasing feelings of calm and positivity.
Old and new technologies
There are many apps and programmes available which can be helpful in guiding a meditation practice, but for me there’s nothing like meditating by myself, with my mālā beads as my guide. It feels like old technology, but it has more ‘soul’ and more beauty — plus mālā beads don’t need to be set to airplane mode to ensure some uninterrupted peaceful moments!
The mālā helps me find more focus during the practice, the tactile quality adds to the experience, and having a symbolic object can be helpful to create a personal ritual, a practice that I feel drawn to do over and over, maybe even daily, instead of it feeling like a chore or something on the to do list.
During lockdown while others were baking sourdough and banana bread or binge-watching a box set, I learned how to knot my own mālā beads! It’s actually quite a meditative practice in its own right.
If you’d like to purchase one of my hand-knotted mālās or join me on May 20th in Oxford to learn how to meditate with a mālā, please get in touch or see details here.