Malas: The New Yoga Status Symbol

Creative Commons License photo credit: Sharif Sharifi

Whether you’re male, or female fashion is a great way to express creativity, and personality on a daily basis.

While I love bringing a sense of style into my yoga practice, I am not so sure how I feel about bringing yoga into my style. 

I have noticed an increasing amount of individuals sporting malas through out studios and community events, and I wonder if they are being worn as a symbol of devotion or merely as a fashion statement.  While searching the yogasphere I came across a mock ad on Yoga Dawg that poked fun at how sacred objects are often commercialized and treated by “western yogis” as trendy accessories rather than worn for their intended spiritual purpose.

The YogaDawg Sadhu Fall Collection

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Vedic Face Paint
Lotus Joy Premium Yoga Club
Mellow Yellow Chakra Yoga Shirt
Holy Moly Far Out Yoga Bead Set
Mellow Yellow Chakra Yoga Pants

While it is common in the Hindu religion to wear malas around the neck, it is typically used to practice devotion towards a deity. Malas are used to express one’s respect and service to that god, and it’s considered disrespectful to wear the beads flippantly or without intention. Devotees are expected to be disciplined in spiritual practices that are deserving of the malas and the blessings they come with.

For example, many people wear the rudraksha mala in observance of the Lord Shiva. Devotees take certain measures that show respect, including the use of rituals and prayers to purify the beads, and they remove the beads when consuming alcohol, attending a funeral, having sex, and for women during menstruation.

I know very few yogis in the United States who take the same precautions when adorning themselves with malas. Most of us aren’t even aware that such precautions exist.

Malas increasingly seem to be a status symbol — a means to appear more “yogic.”

Tibetan Woman
Creative Commons License photo credit: AnnieGreenSprings

Does the tradition matter?  Is it really harming anyone to take a so called sacred object and wear it without observing a spiritual practice? I don’t think Shiva will come to your door with his trident handy, for not acting in accordance to the tradition, but I do wonder if it may have more subtle consequences.

If our intentions are centered around appearing virtuous, spiritual, or yogic with no supporting actions, consider the message are we sending practicing Hindus. When we wear these objects as little more than jewelry, are we showing respect to those who have so kindly shared their spiritual practice with us?

Do we disrespect others’ belief systems when we wear “sacred” objects like malas with blatant disregard for their spiritual significance?


Posted by:

- who has written 21 posts on Yoga Modern.

Patience Steltzer is the Assistant Editor for the World Affairs Current at Yoga Modern. She spends her time drawing, painting, sewing, writing, and practicing/teaching yoga in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. After a lifetime of having no idea what to do with her creativity and energy, she discovered yoga allowed her to find the beauty and excitement in stillness. Since then, she has dedicated herself to sharing her love of yoga with others to help them find the joy she has.

13 Responses

  • Barbra Brady says:

    Patience, in my tradition (ParaYoga, and Sri Vidya), we actually keep the mala beads we use for our japa practice out of sight. They are indeed sacred, and just between the individual and he/her Ishta Devata. We have little bags that we keep them in, and if practicing our japa mantra in front of others, either do so with our hand in the bags to turn the beads, or say in our lap with a shawl covering them. Now, one can have other sets of mala beads "just for show," but those would not be the ones we use for practice…Yes, it is sacred. Especially when our teacher has blessed them. At this point I have *a lot* of rounds of japa mantra on my beads, and they are now very precious and powerful!

  • Jessica says:

    I agree – I also have a practice given to me throught he Para Yoga (Himalayan) tradition and to keep the "seed" of my mantra sacred – my beads are kept wrapped up, holding the energy of the mantra and my practice close to the core.

    I have also heard that wearing a set of malas that are not being used for practice is totally fine. At least, I think it is. I have been given beautiful malas as gifts from friends and have also purchased handmade malas that I have worn. I have made my own malas to remind me of a certain experience or time in my life… My personal opinion (in case you asked… lol) is that is ok.

    Hard to tell which is which, right? What do you think?

  • The same questions can be posed for rosary beads. Growing up Catholic, we used them in church every week and studied the meaning behind them. These days, as I have somewhat strayed from the confines of organized religion, I am drawn to rosary beads for the nostalgia, symbolism and personal meaning they evoke. I feel like wearing malas, if they hold meaning and significance for the person wearing them, is acceptable. Who are we to judge what their meaning is for someone else? At the same time, nobody likes a poser…lol. Thank you for another great contribution, Patience.

    • Christina says:

      AHHHHH! What wonderful gifts! The charm necackle is very cool and I know some little girls that would love that! It kills me when my girls want a softie I have made; it always puts me in a tough situation. lisa

  • And then there are rosary beads and Madonna and fashion statements, or some kind of statement. I am not opposed to that. I just couldn't/wouldn't wear my mala beads out in public. That would be like wearing my heart on my sleeve and I'm not comfortable with that. Some people might like the "close reminder" of their devotion by wrapping them around their necks or wrists. I am way too private for that. But then again some people might need to display to the world that they "pray" or meditate. I don't understand the reason for that, but everyone is different.

  • I wear the mala that my teacher gave me around my wrist. It reminds me to chant my mantras as I am waiting in line at the store, in the car or anywhere. I always have them close so that my mind is occupied in prayer. I have had people ask me what they are and I answer that they are prayer beads. It doesn't matter to me what someone else thinks of my practice. Judging others is a waste of time that could be better spent prayerfully changing the world one bead at a time.

  • I use my mala in meditation and wear it occasionally if I need reminders to stay calm and focused. It is not jewelry, but it is beautiful, and a helpful reminder to stay in your breath when you're faced with tough situations.

  • Chris says:

    The wearing of Maalas is a harmless practice, even if the Maala is worn as a fashion statement, without appreciating the underlying significance of the Maala.

    Meanwhile, how do you feel about people who practise Yoga Asanas, claim to be Yogis or Yoginis, and then proceed to stuff their faces with meat ?

    I feel that such people just don't get it at all. The Principle of Ahimsa, which is enshrined within the Hindu science of Yoga, proscribes the killing of any living being. Therefore, meat is off-limits for any Yogi.

    And yet, the US today is awash with spandexed, leotarded bodies that get all bendy on the Yoga-Mat, and then stuff their faces with meat, once they have gotten off their Yoga-Mats.

    One cannot have one's Mat and one's Mat. One must choose wisely.

  • Thank ya'll for all the comments. I too wear my malas, and was taught that it was acceptable, but my mantra should remain private. I only ask this question out of curiosity.

    If one wears mala with out spiritual practice does it lose it's power on a global scale, or is the "magic" in the eye of the beholder?

  • Esther says:

    Interesting, I wear mine to keep me centred on my path, I bought it in india and reminds me of what I learnt. It also looks nice. I can't see Hindu's finding offensive at non-hindu's wearing mala for fashion. I see young Japanese adorn them selves with crosses and rosesaries….I think it a little strange but not offensive.

  • Karen Rhodes says:

    i pick up most of my malas at thrift stores. There they lay these sacred little beaded beings all tangled up with the dollar store bling bling. I always feel that for a mere seventy-five cents I saved a spiritual object from a life of misunderstanding. Yes this may sound a little crazy, but it's true.

    • dsunshine says:

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