Tips for choosing your Mala

Mala Design, Elements and Intention

It is always a challenge for me to describe the process for selecting a mala, more likely than not because it is different for everyone. Some people want to choose intellectually, selecting stones with particular energies that appeal to them and they believe they 'want'. Others will walk in and gravitate naturally to what they 'need'. It is important there is no right way to choose, but it is amazing to note that the people that choose intellectually, eventually do choose by intuition: they just have to see past their wants. Trusting in our innate wisdom is a pretty lofty challenge!

I have noted over the years that people's choices are stymied by one of 2 things, pricing or lack of knowledge about the composition. I have compiled a few insights, gained over the last 4 years, about the composition of a mala and what to look for that will affect pricing and wear. It is not an exhaustive list and I will update it as I go along.

Please remember, what I will be expressing below is just an opinion and take what you need from this discussion to determine your best strategy for selecting a mala.  

Know you only need one mala or maybe two. I know that  colours me as a not so savvy businesswoman but my business plan focuses on spreading the love of japa mala and meditation in order to bring peace and calm. I have created 3 for myself and I am a mala maker, so I try to practice what I preach. Remember, this is a sacred talisman, not a fashion item. Be aware, if you are choosing your mala as a fashion item, it won't stay that way forever. These beautiful articles of spiritual armour have a way of gently inviting you to the world of 'more' and before you know it, you will have a japa mala practice....its only a matter of time.

Fortunately, there will be malas at every price point, so you will be able to find something that speaks to your heartspace, of this I am sure. It is important you get a little bit of wonderful to last throughout your journey. You are a spirit having a human experience...malas have a way of reminding you of this important fact. 

Just a few points to consider and ponder:

The elements used to create a mala masterpiece!


Knotting:  A traditional mala, the type I fell in love with, is double-knotted much like a pearl necklace. There is a sweet acknowledgement when you practice with a knotted mala of a gap or a pause. Each traditional mala has 54-108 knots plus the guru bead, knotted when the union is made in the mala. The knot is intended to give you pause, to remind you to steal back spaciousness by experiencing those gaps. Double knots hold your mala together and are a premium feature of a quality piece. Your thumb uses it to move along gently and consistently. It inspires you to import this spaciousness into your life because you create that sense with your fingertips.

Things to consider with a knotted mala:

  • A knotted mala gains a little length as each knot is approximately 1mm.
  • If for some reason your mala breaks, all beads will be secured by a knot so you will not lose them.
  • You will pay more for this type of mala because someone has taken the time to create the knot and tighten it to ensure it serves you well. 

No Knots: A beautiful and elderly Buddhist trusted me to restring his mala early in my career. The Rosewood beads were well worn and the string stretched from years of practice. I was surprised their were no knots, and realized this was yet another 'traditional' mala. When stringing the mala a small gap is left for the practitioner to move the beads along with each recitation. Things to consider with a no-knot mala:

  • If the string breaks, you may not be able to retrieve all beads. (This is really okay, because if it breaks, you should change it up when you restring it anyway as the intention set into that mala is fulfilled.)
  • It is a different pulling of the bead during japa mala. You actively move the bead instead of moving along the knots.
  • This type of mala should be lower in cost as there is much less labour in this process. Design and type of bead will still affect the overall cost.

I like to combine knots with no-knots in some of my designs to reduce length and price. It also adds a different texture to your japa mala practice.

Seed Beads: This is my least favourite type of 'pause' in a mala, but I know that comes from a place of ego...I personally want someone to have taken the time to invest themselves in the construction of a mala. Seed beads are slid onto the string with the beads, giving the look of a knot, and functioning similarly, and it gives a different feel at least for me. I use seed beads to add length to 4x wrap malas because there is no possibility of adding a knot to elastic! Things to consider with seed beads in your mala:

  • If the string breaks, you may not be able to retrieve all beads. (This is really okay, because if it breaks, you should change it up when you restring it anyway as the intention set into that mala is fulfilled.)
  • A wire is sometimes used to facilitate stringing these small beads rather than a nylon or cotton string giving the mala a different energy. 
  • Seed beads are not consistent in width and length. They are generally made of ceramic or a plastic type material and are irregular because they are mass produced. 
  • This type of mala should be lower in cost as there is much less labour in this process. Design and type of bead will still affect the overall cost.

Bead Size:

6mm: I have found that most women prefer this size of bead for versatility because the guru bead or pendant rests gently over the heart. It is an easily managed length and you can wear it daily much like a longer necklace (14.5:-16" from the centre of the back of the neck). This way you can wear your spiritual armour all the time and if struck by the urge, japa mala is a quiet possibility!

8mm: These beads are perfect for practice and many people, especially taller people, seem to love this length. For comfort it should fall below the chest for optimal and manageable placement (17"-19" from the centre of the back of the neck) is a very dramatic look and perfect for stacking with other malas or funky jewellery. Warning: The 8mm is not the best length for doing housework or picks up speed with motion and you could easily hit yourself in the head...but it looks amazing on!


    It is rare occasion when I use a single crystal on a mala…but sometimes simplicity is called for and that is enough. I do love to combine crystal energies and integrate the healing properties… it means you will have many crystals to carry you in your lifetime. They only work when you need them, so I like to pack your pantry full! In order to facilitate this, time is taken to create optimum designs, crystals are placed strategically being mindful to always integrate gently, and of course, coordinate colours!

    I like to combine many crystals because then you can borrow from them all when you need to and get 'more bang for your buck." I recently heard from one customer that there was a rule about only using 3 crystals per mala. That was the first time I had heard that and for those that know me, I'm not big on restrictive rules. I place as many types of crystals as the design calls for. This gives you a mala that is versatile and possessing many diverse energies that you can call on over the life of your mala. You won't need all energies, all the time but they will be there when you do!

    Type of Beads:

    Semi-precious gemstones: I am a crystal healer, so I love crystals and weaving their energies into lovely designs. Bead selection is a big priority for me. I love a good quality bead and travel far and wide to ensure I purchase good quality. I also love to find rare stones to use in my designs; something unusual to bring new colours, energies and excitement. Sometimes the suppliers know what they have and I pay for it but other times the crystal gods miraculously offer up treasures at bargain prices. When I get a deal it is reflected in the price of the mala, but treasures made with rare and premium crystals will be priced higher.

    Things to consider about semi-precious gemstones:

    • You can visually tell if they are quality crystals. Take them into the light and then ask your mala-maker if they personally select the stones.
    • Some stones like Amazonite (especially matte) and Turquoise have natural grooves in their surface, it doesn't make them defective. If anything broken stones have a unique power all their own.
    • Beware of people selling Turquoise-coloured stones as Turquoise. It is usually Howlite, which has absolutely wonderful qualities, but should not be priced as Turquoise.
    • Sometimes crystals break, whether caused by excessive flow of energy or over-exposure to water. They are a child of nature and therefore can be created or destroyed. 
    • Crystals must be regularly laundered to rid them of energies they have relieved you of....they are real Karma yogis, taking on what no longer serves you.

    Woods: I have experimented with woods over the years and have settled on a few that seem to weather wear better than others. Rosewood from India (fast growing) and regulated Sandalwood are used in my mala designs. There is a richness in the gleam of the Rosewood and the finish wears well with use. The sandalwood I use is full of the beautiful heady scent it is known for and retains it efficacy for a long time. Things to consider about wood choice:

    • The finish will wear off with time and exposure to perspiration, water and general wear. 
    • Wood will swell and break with constant exposure to water. Remove when exercising, swimming, showering.
    • Sandalwood will lose its scent over time but a good quality wood will still have a perfume when it is heated on your body.
    • Some woods are illegally sourced and endangered. Please ask your mala-maker. If they don't know you have at least brought their attention to their sourcing and that is a gift.

    All that Glitters: Metal Accents on Malas

    Silver: Silver is my preference when I feel the need to add a little bling to malas but I know the cost can sometimes seem prohibitive so I try and mix in some good quality alloys to ease this stress. However, silver is easy to clean when it tarnishes. All metals tarnish or devlop a patina, especially if you travel and  are using your mala for mantra practice! I use two types of silver 92.5 from North America and India, and 95 from the Hill Tribes in Thailand…each is unique and I notice a subtle difference in the energy and appearance of the malas when this metal is used. I’m pretty sure you will too.

    Brass: Certain stones demand the groovy look of brass….chrysocolla, lapis lazuli and Indian agate to name just a few. I have some unique shaped beads I like to combine with lesser priced findings to make an stunning and affordable statement.

    Alloys: Alloys are added to give a little pizazz to the design…I don’t always use them but they do have a practical purpose. We need a guru bead of some sort to know where to begin our japa mala practice and where to end! Alloys keep the price down and age with a patina, sometimes revealing the brass that is beneath. They are all different and I experiment. One of my first wrist malas has bead caps and a guru bead made from alloys. I love the aged look of it, but if that is not something that makes your heart sing, spend a little more and get silver which can be brought back to its gleamy sheen with a little rub of a soft cloth. I try to ensure all alloys are nickel free, but if you have an allergy please don’t take a chance…I am not involved in the production so cannot guarantee anything…once again go with silver. 

    The Rope that Binds

    Elastic: Wrist Malas, Anklets and bracelets are beaded onto a high quality and dense elastic. Elastic is magic…is stretches and if you don’t tug on it too hard, expose it to chemicals or weaken the knot by exposing it to liquids, it will have a good life span. My first wrist mala is over 4 years old and still hanging in there. Essential oils, although an amazing addition to energy, can break down the elastic. Just be sure to add it very carefully to the lava bead only!

    Nylon/Cotton thread: Traditional Malas are bound with either a nylon thread or a cotton thread… I have tried everything else and these two seem to stand the test of time. The holes in crystal beads can be rough and sharp. It is importantly to have a string that can handle this wear and tear, especially since you will be using your mala for practice. We want it to last.

    Finishing Features

    Tassel:Not everyone loves a tassel, but there is something magical and comforting about a silk tassel that makes the choice a supreme one. All tassels experience wear and tear, even good old cotton ones, and have to be taken care of throughout the life of the mala. If well made your malamaker will ensure that you should be able to have another tassel constructed when your original one is in need of a update. Things to consider when selecting a tassel:

    • Length should be long enough that you can trim it when pieces get pulled or work their way out a wee bit. This is a natural process and should not discourage you from having a tassel. I make mine 4.5 inches now as a result of this 'observing'.
    • A tassel should be full but not too full as it will make the tassel feel heavier than it is and to be honest, it will get into things it shouldn' your morning coffee!
    • Look carefully to see if the tassel is integrated using all strings from the mala or attached. Pre-made tassels can be attached to a mala but I have never seen them made of cotton or silk. Having it integrated does not mean they won't come apart too, it just means that all parts are secured in a more cohesive manner.
    • You will need a sharp pair of scissors to keep stray threads coiffed properly.
    • Tangled tassels can easily be tamed by running under warm water and using your digits to straighten the threads.
    • Cotton Tassels are stiffer and not as solt as silk tassels but they will be less likely to get 'pulls' from a broken nail. 
    • Silk is a natural product but there is either a worm or larvae destroyed during the process, even in those silks that claim to be 'non-harming'.  I only tell you this so you can make an informed choice. I am still looking for a cotton that mimics silk's qualities but alas, have yet to discover one.

    Pendant: When I started designing, believe it or not, people didn't want a tassel, so I had to figure out a way to add a pendant and maintain the union of the mala. I did not like the look of knot manipulation to attach the pendant, and tried creating beads from the original string, but alas, I did not like that either. Eventually I found a bail which I liked and would allow me to offer people a mala with a pendant.  make it possible for them to change out their pendants over time. Things to consider when selecting a pendant feature:

    • With a bail attachment it is possible for you to change out  pendants over time.
    • It is possible to make the mala with a permanently attached pendant  but you will be unable to change it without restringing the mala.

    Now if you've made it this far and you still have questions, please contact me! great love, Julie