Hello and welcome! Today I have the pleasure of interviewing the amazing Sarah Balmer from Sarah Belle Style. Thank you so much, Sarah, for being here today.
Sarah Balmer: Thanks for having me!
Ashley: I am really looking forward to this! Obviously, this is not the first time that we’ve connected. You’re a student at Love & Light, but you also do your own amazing work in the world. Not to forget, you were a part of our Crystal Mastery Conference last year.
Sarah: Yes, I was!
Ashley: And that was such a special event because you talked all about crystals and how you incorporate them in your yoga practice. You do so much more than that, though. In today’s interview we’re going to be talking about your passion for working with Malas, particularly crystal Mala beads.
So can you tell us a little bit about your background and your story? How did your own Mala work play a big role in your spiritual growth?
Sarah: Yeah, so that is a lot to unpack, but I’ll tell you a little bit about my background. So I teach yoga, and I like to create a really rich spiritual practice with a lot of meditation. In addition to that, I’m also a jewelry maker. I feel like that’s really where the Malas come in. They’re where those two passions of mine intersect to create this love that I have for Mala beads.
So interestingly, a lot of people think that Mala beads are just yoga jewelry because a lot of Yogi’s will wear them around their wrist. However, what people don’t realize is that they can also be such a rich tool for expanding your meditation practice. So I guess that’s a little bit about what took me to Malas.
Ashley: Now I just want to share my own personal favorite Mala story, because I have a few sets of Mala beads myself.
I know some people have loads and loads of them, but I just have a set that I made personally for myself. It’s really special to me because it combines tons of different kinds of crystals. Each bead is a different stone and they all mean something to me. So when I was adding each bead and creating this Mala I was holding the intention that that’s what that crystal would help connect me with.
Another experience that I had working with my Mala beads that I will treasure for the rest of my life was when his Holiness the Dalai Lama came to Madison, Wisconsin. He’s actually come several times but at one of the times that I went to see him speak, I decided that instead of just listening to his wisdom and his words, this time I wanted to be in his presence. I wanted to be in this amazing environment full of people who are here to listen to him speak and share his wisdom and his knowledge.
I brought my Mala beads and I silently said mantras to myself and worked with my prayer beads while listening to this amazing spiritual teacher and leader.
It was such a profound experience for me. I found that they really helped me be in the present moment. The first time that I heard him speak I went in with this intention to really be present and listen and absorb but just by having that little bit of touch point, that connection point, it really helped me be there.
I’m curious for you, was there some kind of experience or experiences that really stood out for you when you were working with Mala beads? Anything that made you dive into them a little bit deeper?
Sarah: Yeah, so one of the really wonderful things about Japa-Mala practice is that it incorporates sound and vibrational healing. There’s so much power in sound healing. A lot of times whenever we meditate, we’re just sitting there in silence. You know, trying to tame the monkey mind and all of that. But the wonderful thing about a Mala practice is that you have a mantra that you’re working with and you repeat that mantra over and over and over. So you’re using not just using sound, but your own sound that you make. This sound then starts to vibrate throughout the whole body.
The idea is that the repetition of that sound or mantra starts to create a chemical change at a cellular level. It really helps to bring about that place of stillness that can be hard to achieve otherwise.
Personally, the sound aspect of Mala practice is what has shifted it to that next level for me. Especially with using my own sound and allowing it to take me to that place of stillness.
In my Mala classes, once everyone makes their Mala, we all use them together at the end of the class. We do a mantra practice together and it’s just such a powerful shift in energy. I’ll just build on this a step further since you were talking about the Dalai Lama. So, one of the most wonderful mantras that you can use for Mala practice is ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, which means hail to the jewel in the Lotus when the wisdom of the mind rests and the Lotus of the heart compassion arises.
It’s a mantra for compassion. It says that all of the wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings are in this one mantra. So this mantra is being chanted thousands of times across the planet at any point during the day. When you chant it you are tuning into that vibrational frequency of the monks, the Buddhists, and all the people around the world that are chanting this at the same time.
‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ is such a powerful and important mantra to use because it has so much momentum and so much richness to its frequency.
Ashley: I’m getting a little bit emotional just hearing you talk about that, because it is one of those things that through sound we can tap into this amazing connection to the world around us, the universe around us, and to other beings. It’s a thing that really awakens your heart like nothing else, because you’re taking such an active role in that process.
For those who might not be familiar, what are the logistics of a Mala? We’ve all seen Mala beads, but not everyone realizes that they’re pretty specific, they’re not just pretty pieces of jewelry.
Sarah: Yes, definitely. So all Malas have a hundred and eight beads, as 108 is believed to be a sacred number. There’s many reasons behind the hundred and eight and if you research 108 you’ll get all of these different beautiful things that arrive at 108.
There’s also a one hundred and ninth bead. That hundred and ninth bead is called the Guru bead. It’s the bead at the bottom of the Mala that sits above the tassel and it represents all of your teachers. Technically it represents your guru, but in today’s time a lot of us don’t practice with anyone guru or teacher. We have many, and in many cases even the people that we have close relationships with are our teachers. So that guru bead can really represent anyone that’s imparted wisdom or has played a special role in our life.
When you’re chanting your Mala and you get to that point in your in your Mala practice, you’re giving thanks to your teacher or all of your teachers that have come into your life, and then there’s usually a tassel at the bottom of the Mala. Some Malas are made with pendants or crystals at the end and that’s fine too but traditionally you see a tassel at the end. The tassel represents our connection to the universe and the thread that binds us all.
Ashley: As Malas can be made out of lots of different materials, what are some of the choices people make and what Mala crystal beads are options?
Sarah: Yes, so there are some traditional beads that are used in Mala making. Red Raksha is our traditional bead, which is also called Sheba tiers and is associated with Lord Shiva. It is said that Lord Shiva went into a meditation for peace for all of humanity and when he came out he wept and his tears flowed down into the earth and then from that the Red Rakhsha tree came about.
Tulsi is another traditional bead. I love using Tulsi because it’s such a powerful medicinal plant and that’s actually what I’m wearing here for those that are watching the video.
Ashley: Holy basil, right?
Sarah: Yes exactly. It is also called holy basil and it’s a really powerful adaptogenic herb that helps with the stress response and inflammation. It’s wonderful to wear it against the skin. You can also find it in pill form and even as a tea. So it adds a really nice organic element to a Mala. I also love how when you practice with it over time the oils of your hands start to make it develop a more worn look, as you really start to develop a relationship with your Mala.
Crystals are my favorite in terms of beads to incorporate into Malas, because they have so many ways that they can support us.
Another aspect of working with the Mala is that you’re also working with an intention. In your Mala practice you’re creating an intention, and as you’re sitting in your meditation holding that intention in your heart you create this beautiful high frequency from which you can start to help manifest that intention into the world. When we start to pair that with crystal energy, you have a really magical effect. Now, you’re getting that energetic support from the crystals and from the earth and that builds more momentum behind the practice.
I wouldn’t say there’s any one crystal that I would recommend for a Mala. I think that’s really an individual choice based on the intention that you might be working with and whether you find energetic support from that particular crystal.
Ashley: And you often see people combining some of these materials, right?
Sarah: Absolutely. Another thing that you can do is add spacer beads to your Mala. These are in addition to the hundred and eight beads, and this is especially nice for someone that’s just starting their practice. The idea of the spacer bead is that it’s giving the mind kind of a place to pause and re-center and come back to your practice.
It can also be like a counter bead, so if you have three spacer beads and you reach one you’re going to know that you’re a quarter of the way through your Mala. when you get to the next you’ll know that you’re halfway through your practice. So it can kind of be a guide in that sense. As well as the spacer beads, I like to use accent beads. These are a nice place to intersperse crystals or special beads.
Ashley: I know you have this amazing Mala making workshop that you teach and you’re also offering an e-book, which is kind of like a workshop guide that anyone can do. I have to say I was super intrigued when I found out you’re offering this.
I bought your workbook and I sat down one afternoon and went through the whole thing. It made my heart so full.
I felt so amazing after going through that workshop because you really cover everything you need to know about a Mala. You talked about creating a Mala, setting intentions, working with your chosen Mala. You talked about committing to your practice, which is a big part of it.
I know so many of us sometimes have these plans of how we’re going to connect to spirit, connect to the universe and tap into our own spirituality. But then we stray from that or we get busy. So…
What can we do to make sure that we commit to our practice?
Sarah: Yes, so I think one aspect to remember is that the time commitment is really small. I think that what most of us struggle with is finding the time to go through 108 beads because it sounds a bit daunting. However, depending on how fast you go and what your mantra is, you can usually get through it in about five minutes. Just ask, can I give myself five minutes a day just for myself? Yes. When you commit to just that little bit of time for yourself, you can see really powerful changes in your life.
The other thing is that it’s not intimidating. I think that sometimes we have good intentions about starting some type of spiritual practice, but then we feel a little intimidated about it. Especially traditional meditation of sitting in silence. I don’t know how many people have told me; oh, I can’t do that. Meditation isn’t for me, my brain’s way too busy. That’s not a unique problem to have. So with the Mala, I think it lowers that barrier to entry. It gives your hand something to do and it gives your mind a place to rest it. There’s an activity involved — it’s not just sitting in silence.
Ashley: So, one of the things that you teach in your workshop and that you also share in your eBook is amazing step-by-step instructions for creating your own Mala…
Now, of course, you make them as well and you sell them on your website. You do sell some really beautiful Malas which people can buy, but why would you encourage someone to take that next little step and make one for themselves?
Sarah: When you make your own Mala, you’re infusing your energy into the Mala with every single bead that you string.
It really is an emanation of your own creation, and that’s a really beautiful thing. You’re creating it, and then you’re also creating the tool by which you’re going to build on your intention and ultimately manifest what it is you want in the world. I think that’s a really special and sacred thing. When you create it from scratch you’re taking beads from all over the place and you’re putting them together in your own unique way. It’s your own unique expression, and I feel like it creates this bond and relationship with that tool from the very beginning. That’s just a really special process.
Ashley: And after this whole process of creating your Mala, one of the final things that you touch on in this workshop and in this eBook is blessing in Mala.
Why is blessing the Mala an important part of the practice in your eyes?
Sarah: Yes, so I think that it’s wonderful to incorporate an element of ritual or ceremony in any type of spiritual practice. It really allows us to become grounded and centered and really pull all of our energy back into ourselves and be really clear with our intentions.
Not only is it wonderful to have that element of ritual or ceremony as you start or commence this practice, it also helps with the commitment too. You know, you’re creating this special event around what it is you’re wanting to cultivate in your life.
I start off by using sage in the blessing process to cleanse and clear the Mala.
You can then use oils to anoint and bless your Mala, depending on what types of beads you use. Some beads are very absorbent and you can use oils with them. Lava stone is one that I use a lot, because you can drop some essential oil on it, even if you just have one bead in your Mala. It’s a wonderful way to incorporate that element of an oil diffuser in your Mala.
When you rub the oil into all of the beads you’re creating another sensory element that becomes part of your practice. Then if you’re wearing your Mala throughout the day, whether it’s on your wrist or your neck, and you get that little whiff of the scent throughout the day, it kind of brings you back to your practice and your intention. It creates a much richer practice over time too when you have that element involved.
Ashley: Fragrance and scent, as we know, are so powerful for helping us get centered and grounded and trigger a response in our brain, right?
So it kind of lifts you into that place where you’re ready to take time for spiritual practice and be only focused on that. That’s one of the reasons that we burn incense in meditation so, it’s such a powerful thing. I love the idea of incorporating that into your Mala.
So how can people get their hands on a copy of this eBook and do this on their own?
Sarah: So the eBook is called ‘The Art of Mala Making, Ritual and Practice‘ and even if you don’t want to make your own Mala, there’s still a lot of good information in there about how to work with the Mala, how to hold it, etc. It’s available on my website at sarahbelstyle.com.
There’s also another version of the e-book. It’s the teacher edition, so for folks out there that might be yoga teachers or meditation teachers. If you want to offer the workshop that I offer, I cover everything from A to Z so that you can create your own Mala making workshop. I also include where to get all of your supplies and materials as well, so it’s really everything that you need to know.
Ashley: And I think this is such a good opportunity for people who want to create that community, that space for people to come together. Like you said, it’s so much more powerful when we do it in a group. The fact that you offer that option to people is just amazing.
Sarah, where can people find you online and keep in touch with you and learn even more about your work with crystals as a Yoga instructor?
Ashley: Sarah, thank you so much for being here and sharing all of your amazing insight and wisdom with us. I really appreciate it.
Sarah: Absolutely! Thanks for having me.
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