The Mala is used for keeping count of the number of repetitions of prayers or chants. The standard mala has 108 beads with a Meru (a Sanskrit word for mountain) secured separately from the rest. The Meru is the storehouse for the energy, frequency, vibrational power that builds as you chant or pray.
A half of a mala is fifty-four beads; the Catholic Rosary is also fifty-four beads in length.
During your meditation practice using one bead for each time you chant a mantra, then the next bead and then the next bead until you have touched each of the fifty-four or 108 beads.
Using your right hand the mala is draped over the middle finger, ring finger, and little finger, with the thumb and first finger free. With the first finger extended the first mantra is chanted on the first bead, with the thumb touching the bead. Then the thumb pushes the mala away so that the second bead comes to rest on the thumb when the next mantra is chanted until you reach the meru. Once you reach the meru and If you want to continue with your mantra meditation practice you can return back the other way and the process repeats itself.
Symbolically the three fingers involved in moving around the mala are considered to represent the three qualities of nature: positive, negative and neutral. The first finger represents the ego and at no time is it to work with or touch the mala. The thumb represents God or the divine which is why it is the only digit that moves the mala.
After the mantra practice, the mala is put back in a special place or worn around the neck. The mala increases in spiritual potency with use and for that reason people choose to carry it with them or wear a mala so that the meru is positioned at the back of their skull, allowing the energy to radiate into their brain. Others prefer to wear the mala so that the meru sits over the heart, with its radiating vibrations.