It is common for people to use a mala bead (or a rosary) to keep track of how many repetitions of a mantra they have chanted. Some people also use a mala to count how many rounds of pranayama (breathing exercises) they have done. This is helpful because you don’t have to keep track (or not…) in your head, and the tactile sense of holding the mala helps you to stay present to the practice.
I, however, years ago learned to keep count on my fingers. They are always with me, and I know through my studies of Hasta Samudrika Shastra (Vedic palmistry) that the connections I make with my fingers are beneficial to my physiology. I’ll teach you how to do it!
There are a few different techniques for using hands to count. We will explore one of them here.
For chanting I count using both of my hands, and for many pranayamas I use only my left hand, keeping the right hand free to open and close my nostrils (ie: with alternate nostril breathing).
Take a moment to look at your hand. It is composed of one thumb and four fingers. Each finger has three segments to it. Four fingers with three segments each makes for twelve total segments.
The thumb is used as “the counter,” and the finger segments are used as “the numbers.”
To count with the fingers and thumb, we will move around the finger segments in an inwardly-moving spiral. The spiral works as follow:
• the segment of the index finger closest to the hand is #1;
• the middle segment of the index finger is #2;
• the tip of the index finger is #3;
• the tip of the middle finger is #4;
• the tip of the ring finger is #5;
• the tip of the little finger is #6;
• the middle segment of the little finger is #7;
• the segment of the little finger closest to the hand is #8;
• the segment of the ring finger closest to the hand is #9;
• the segment of the middle finger closest to the hand is #10;
• the middle segment of the middle finger is #11;
• and the middle segment of the ring finger is #12.
The tip of the thumb is used to touch each finger segment, in sequence, around the spiral. Thus, wherever the thumb is touching equates to that number. For example, the thumb touching the tip of the index finger is equivalent to number 3, or a count of three.
Putting it Together
You will touch your thumb to each segment, in turn, for each repetition of the mantra. Touch segment #1 which you say your first mantra repetition; touch segment 2 while you chant your second repetition; touch segment #3 while you chant your third repetition; and so on. When you have chanted one repetition for each segment, you will have chanted 12 repetitions of your mantra.