Bhakti yoga practice includes chanting the Hare Krishna mantra softly to oneself. This is called japa.
While chanting, you’ll keep the sacred japa beads in a bead bag to keep them clean and off the floor. One side of the bag is large enough to insert your hand. Your index finger comes out of the smaller hole on the other side, to help you hold on to the bag. Place your beads in the bag, and you’re ready to go.
Bhakti yoga practitioners decide on a minimum number of mantras they want to chant each day. The main purpose of the beads is to keep track of the number of mantras chanted. Fingering the beads also engages your sense of touch and helps to focus your mind on the activity of chanting.
There are 108 beads and one larger bead, known as the head bead, or Krishna bead. Begin with the bead next to the Krishna bead. Gently roll the bead between the thumb and middle finger of your right hand while chanting:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
Then move forward to the next bead (pulling the bead towards you, into your hand) and repeat the mantra.
In this way, continue chanting on each of the 108 beads in the strand until you again reach the Krishna bead. This is known as one round of japa and usually takes from six to ten minutes.
It is beneficial to chant the Pancha-tattva mantra before beginning your japa meditation. Many people like to chant it before each round. This is a prayer to Krishna’s most merciful avatar, Lord Chaitanya and His associates, to help us become ecstatic and avoid offenses while chanting.
“I offer my obeisances to Sri Krishna Chaitanya, Prabhu Nityananda, Sri Advaita, Gadadhara, Srivasa and all others in the line of devotion.”
If you are going to chant more than one round of japa, then, without chanting on the Krishna bead, turn the strand around and begin the next round. (Continue pulling beads towards you, as before. Watch our helpful demonstration video: How to Practice Japa Mantra Meditation.)
If you have a string of counter beads tied to your bead bag, you can keep track of the number of rounds you have chanted by moving one counter bead for each round.
Chant clearly and try to hear the holy names with attention. Some chanters find that looking at the mantra or a picture of Krishna helps them concentrate. If that works for you, that’s fine. But remember that the goal is attentive hearing.