Quite simply put a Mala is a tool that can be used to count mantras and that helps a practitioner maintain mindfulness. A Mala quite often symbolizes a new practitioners first steps on the path of Dharma Practice. It is also something that will accompany that new entrant on their path the rest of their lives. Your Mala will become very much a part of you through the years. Your Mala will be imbued with the energy you impart in reciting mantras (if you choose to recite mantras) and the positive energy/intent you radiate with mindfulness. It is important that you choose or personally design a Mala that speaks to you and that reflects your personal energy.
A typical Mala is comprised of 108 Counting Beads, a Guru or "Head" Bead, 3 or 4 Marker Beads and a tassel or snake knot. The Guru Bead and Markers are typically not counted as a part of the main Counting Beads so in actuality you can end up with a grand total of 112 or 113 beads. Sometimes you will see the markers included in the main number of beads. If you prefer this method please let me know. There are other variations of bead counts/marker beads beyond the usual 108 such as 27 beads, 36 beads, 21 beads, 54 beads, and 18 beads (note the common rule- all are divisible by 9). At the Custom Mala Shop I offer 108, 54, 27, and 18. With the 18ct I offer the option to reduce the size of the beads and up the count to 21. I also offer the option to have no marker beads and to substitute a pendant for the tassel/snake-knot.
Quite often a Mala is used to count mantras. If you are new to Dharma Practice you can select a Mantra to recite or, which is more typical, a teacher will choose one for you. As you recite the mantra you can use the Mala to count recitations. 108 recitations equals one full round. In this way your Mala is a personal tool that allows you to keep track of your mantra recitations.
A lot of people buy a Mala to simply remind themselves to remain mindful and focused- there are no rules that say you have to recite mantras with a Mala. Malas are often given as gifts to friends, loved ones, students and teachers and are typically blessed by a teacher or spiritual leader.
When not using your Mala you should keep it in a safe place. You should always treat your Mala with respect and allow it to be treated only with respect by others. Do not sleep with your Mala on your wrist or around your neck- put it somewhere safe such as in a Mala pouch. Do not force your Mala over your wrist under any circumstances- this will shorten the life of your Mala. I do offer an option that allows for adjustability in 108ct Malas that will allow for safe wrist-wearing. Eventually, however, your Mala will need to be re-strung. I have been honored to hold in my hands some old and cherished Malas and have re-strung these with respect. When re-stringing I do offer the option to have the beads re-strung in the exact same order as they were on the original string (assuming the beads have not come completely off).