How To Choose Mala Beads

Selecting Mala Beads

Choosing mala beads is an exciting process along your journey of spiritual growth, manifesting goals and dreams, healing, or to enhance your meditation practice. 

Hello, my name is Heather, I'm an Artisan Jeweler and Certified Meditation Teacher and practitioner. I've been making mala's and spiritual jewelry for 13 years and in this guide, I've highlighted the most common considerations when selecting the perfect mala for yourself or a gift recipient. From the technical aspects to the metaphysical healing properties, you'll find everything you need to know about choosing a mala necklace or bracelet in the sections outlined below. 

Content: Types | Size & Style | IntuitionColor | Intention | Gemstones | Gifts

Diagram of a Mala Necklace - 108 Prayer Beads - Golden Lotus Mala

Types of Mala Beads

There are many different types of mala beads, from necklaces to bracelets each mala has its own special characteristics. Full-size mala necklaces are traditionally comprised of 108 beads plus 1 guru bead with a tassel, charm, or other special pendants. Some mala beads have just a few knots or a snake-knot at the end of the guru. Smaller handheld malas are made of 54 beads plus 1 guru. Mala bracelets are often made of 18, 21 or 27 beads.

Some mala necklaces will include interval spacers also known as markers, these are extra beads added for aesthetic reasons, personal preference, or more traditionally for keeping track of prostrations when practicing mantra. For example, the Tibetan mala is 108 beads with 3 extra spacers and 1 guru bead. The extra spacers are placed just after every 27th bead, an example can be seen in the mala diagram above. 

Do Mala Beads Have To Be 108?

While the significance of 108 beads is special in malas for spiritual use, mantra, or yoga the number can always be custom to the user's preference.

Technical Details of a Mala

When I mention the technical details of a mala I am referring to the length of a mala or bead size, how it is strung and what it is made of. To begin let's take a look at the most common bead sizes.

The traditional size beads for a 108 bead mala necklace are either a medium 8mm or the small 6mm. These are the most popular bead sizes and although they are just 2mm in size difference it makes the overall length of the mala vary. 

Mala Bead Sizes 6mm and 8mm ComparisonLeft: 6mm mala with pendant. Right: 8mm mala with tassel.

A typical 8mm sized mala necklace strung on wire or cord will measure approximately 36 inches in circumference, this will hang about 22 inches long from the top of the mala to the bottom of the tassel. 

The smaller 6mm sized mala necklace that is strung on wire or cord will measure about 24 inches around and measure about 19 inches long from the top to the bottom.

Additional spacer/marker beads or accents along the strand will make the mala longer. A knotted mala or those that have tiny beads placed in-between the 108 beads will add a few extra inches to the circumference and overall length. When looking for a mala it's a good idea to check the measurements listed on the product if you require that it hangs at a particular length.

Which is the Best Mala Bead Size?

Other than personal preference a few things to consider when thinking of what bead size is best are:

  • If you use your mala to pray, count the beads, you may prefer the traditional 8mm size beads as they have a more tactile feel in your hands.
  • If you have arthritis, carpal tunnel, or a physical condition that may impede counting beads for prayer an 8mm size bead or larger should be easier to use.
  • If you prefer to feel a bit more weight when wearing your mala opt for the 8mm sized beads. Most 6mm size malas feel lightweight even when it's made of gemstone.
  • If you are accustomed to using a Catholic Rosary, you may prefer the 6mm sized beads which are the same size. 

This quick video compares the most popular sizes of mala beads while holding in the hands, and counting prayer/mantras.

What is the Guru Bead on a Mala?

A proper set of mala beads will have a guru bead or end bead, this is the 1 extra bead after 108. This guru bead is located at the bottom of the mala just above the tassel, it closes off the strand of 108 beads.

The guru bead represents a teacher or spiritual being associated with the wearer. For instance, you have a spiritual teacher who brought much wisdom into your life, you may dedicate this bead to that person out of respect.

Mala Necklaces with Pendant and Tassel - Wire and Knotted
From Left to Right:
An 8mm mala strung on wire with a cotton tassel. A 6mm mala with pendant. An 8mm mala knotted with silk tassel. An 8mm mala with pendant.

Tassels, Pendants, and Gemstones

Each mala will have something that "finishes" it just below the guru or end bead. The most traditional is a tassel which has historically been seen as a symbol of the lotus flower which represents purity and the ability of the mind to transcend human desires to attain enlightenment.  

Some mala beads have a pendant or gemstone instead of a tassel. There are many different types of pendants, charms, and gemstones for this purpose.  

Wired Mala vs. Knotted Mala

There are two primary purposes of a mala necklace, they are used as a devotional tool for prayer and meditation or they are worn as a necklace/bracelet. A mala is first a functional tool, and therefore it should be strung in such a way that fulfills its purpose. 

Wired mala's are strung with a tiny bit of "give" along the strand. This "give" allows the user to freely move the beads as they count around the circle. 

Knotted mala beads are strung with a cord placing a knot in between each bead along the strand. The tiny knot separates the beads for the user to count mantra without the bead moving.

When deciding between these two types of malas you may ask yourself, do I prefer the tactile feel of a bead moving slightly as I count? do I prefer to move my fingers across the beads without movement? when wearing my mala would I prefer the look of a wired mala necklace or a knotted mala? 

If you are looking for information on how to meditate with a mala, check out our guide to Meditation with Mala Beads.

Let Your Intuition Guide You

Over the years I have answered many questions about how to select a mala and I've found the best answer is to follow your heart, listen to your inner voice. When you see a mala and are naturally drawn to it, this is most likely the best option. The mala you choose will become what you make of it by using it during your meditations, praying with it, using it for worry beads, or wearing it for other personal reasons.

Malas are made of a variety of natural gemstone or wood beads which are unique with varying energy properties, color, pattern, and personal significance. When weighing out the many options ask yourself what the purpose a mala will provide you? for your meditation practice? support for healing? manifesting intentions? Then consider the color, energy, materials and how that may relate to your planned usage of the mala. 

Selecting Mala Beads for a Gift

Are you searching for the perfect mala gift for yourself, a friend, family member, yoga teacher or meditating guru and not sure where to start? Here are 9 options to consider when narrowing down your mala beads selection:

  • What's their favorite color? Mala beads that are aesthetically pleasing are more likely to resonate on a higher level for the wearer, a mala made of stones or tassel that is their favorite shade will bring a smile.
  • When is their birthday? Are they into astrology? A zodiac mala would be an ideal choice, an astrology mala featuring gemstones and colors selected appropriately for your friend's astrological sign makes a great gift.
  • Do they have a love of earthy organic elements? If so, you can't go wrong with a mala made of wood or gemstones & crystals.
  • Are they into Feng Shui? Locate their element in this chart and find a gemstone mala to compliment them.
  • What types of goals are they currently working on in their life? Selecting a mala for an intention such as creativity, success, love, overcoming worry, etc makes a helpful gift in a time of need.
  • Mala beads styled for a particular faith, such Buddhist or Christianity.
  • Custom order a unique mala necklace or bracelet, select the crystals, gemstones and choose all the finishing touches from hundreds of possible designs.
  • Narrow your search of meditation gift ideas by Women and Men.
  • Follow your instinct, which mala stands out to you when thinking of your gift recipient?

Gemstone and Wood Mala Beads by Golden Lotus Mala

Gemstones, Crystals, and Wood

Do you prefer a mala that is lightweight and airy like wood, or would you prefer to have a more solid feel like a stone that has developed for hundreds of years beneath the surface of the earth? Since antiquity, crystals of all kinds have served as protective amulets and a source of power.💎 Discover the properties of gemstones in our guide.

Mala Beads by Color

Meditation with various colors is a visualization technique that helps to reflect upon your set intentions. Color carries meaning for each of us and emotions have been associated with colors depending how we interact with color based on our mental and emotional needs. Find your mala color.


Additional Mala Resources:

If you have any questions about selecting the right mala beads feel free to ask!