How do you use a Komboloi or, as many non-Greeks call them, Greek worry beads? With all the beaded things out there, what exactly are they, anyway? Basically, a Komboloi (or kompoloi, or komboloia [plural], or Greek worry beads) is a string of beads tied in a loop. The komboloi is usually two palm widths long and has an odd number of beads consisting of either a multiple of 4 with one extra bead, or a prime number such as 17, 19 or 23. The beads themselves are made of anything from cheap plastic to semi-precious stones with ambers being among the most prized. The string is held in a loop with a priest bead, sometimes has two shield beads to keep the sides of the loop separate and the beads moving freely, and has tassels at the ends of the string. If you’d like to know a little more of the basics, please check out my page What Is A Komboloi.
The quiet and loud….
There are two basic, traditional ways of playing with a komboloi.
The quiet way
The quiet way consists mainly of holding the tassel end of the loop in one hand and the other end of the loop in your other hand and allowing the beads to slip from your fingers and down the string. Or, you can hold the beads so the priest bead and tassel are resting on your palm and the rest of the beads are hanging over your index finger and down the back of your hand. Then, using your thumb, slide the beads one at a time over your index finger and letting them fall and rest on the priest bead.
The loud way
One loud, or fast, way consists of separating the beads into two sections, hold the string between your index and middle finger with the priest bead and tassel in your palm and the other half of the string resting on the back of your hand. Flip the beads on the back of your hand to the front so they make a nice clacking sound, let them swing or fall to their starting position on the back of the hand and flip it to the front again. Repeat this for as long as you like.
Another less loud method is to just hold the whole string in your palm and play with the beads and enjoy the gentle clacking sound they make when they hit each other.
Focusing your mind….
Komboloi are great for helping you focus your mind.
They can be very useful in meditation. Sometimes our minds wander and we might feel a bit fidgety. It can be really challenging to relax and focus when we’re trying to meditate. Many people give up their practice because they think they just can’t do it or get into the right head space. Instead of calling it quits or spending a lot of time and money on other things, try giving your fingers something to do. Sometimes something as simple as giving your fingers the task of holding a komboloi will calm you enough to be able to focus. Some people also find that wrapping the beads around their wrist or hand gives them a grounding or calming sensation that helps with their practice.
Komboloi are also great for helping the mind focus while counting prayers or repeating mantras or phrases to help them train their minds. Learning a new language for a trip? Try closing your eyes and repeating the phrase you want to learn with each bead that slips through your fingers and you’ll be well on your way to speaking like a local.
A healthy distraction….
Some people find that komboloi are a healthy way to distract them when they are trying to break a habit or as a distracting anxiety aid. For some people, smoking is about the habit of having something for the fingers to do. If you’re in a situation where you’re likely to reach for a cigarette, try reaching for your beads instead. Play with them until the craving passes and enjoy the opportunity to show your friends the neat new trick you learned with your beads.
If your craving (or any other situation) gives you anxiety, try giving your hands and mind something distracting until the anxiety passes. Pour your feelings into the beads while you work your fingers. Watch the beads move, feel the texture, hear the clacking and let your mind relax. Pretty soon the anxiety should pass and you will feel so much better knowing that you have a skill that helped you work with your anxiety and didn’t have to rely on drugs or other more unhealthy options.
Those tricky musical beads….
Worry beads aren’t just about sliding beads on a string and fiddling with them. Many people enjoy practicing and coming up with tricks they can impress themselves and their friends with. Although tricks are usually done with the begleri (a single string of a few beads that some call the komaboloi’s little brother), there are still a lot of tricks that can be done with the komboloi. If you are lucky enough to have an amber komboloi, you might want to go easy with the tricks as amber can be very fragile. Here’s a short video on one of the tricks you can do with the komboloi.
Prettier than spoons and just as musical, komboloi can be a great accompaniment when making music. The clacking of the beads can be done with a variety of rhythms and can work much like any other percussion or rhythmic instrument. The different materials, sizes and methods of clacking the beads can make different musical sounds as well.
A not so simple string of beads
With well over 2000 years of history, it’s no surprise that people have come up with so many uses for the komboloi. They are a wonderful tool for the mind and senses whether you want to break a bad habit or create a healthy new one. You might just want something relaxing to fidget with or have fun making tricks and music. However you want to use your beads is up to you and the options are nearly limitless.
What did you think of this post? Is there something you would like to know more about? Do you have a story about the komboloi? Do you use them and if so, how? Please feel free to comment below.