A Japa mala or mala (Sanskrit:माला; mālā, meaning garland) is a set of beads commonly used by Hindus and Buddhists. Malas are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a deity. This practice is known in Sanskrit as japa. Malas are typically made with 18, 27, 54 or 108 beads. ~ from wikipedia
Although malas are most comonly used to count mantras, they can also be used for Mindfulness Meditation as an aide to keep track of the breath.
Using the beads to keep track of yor inhaling and exhaling, serves to ground you and help against loosing yorself to the stream of thoughts…
There is a very powerful grounding that happens when you count each breath with the flick of a bead. They connect your breath to the physical universe and it can be the difference between constantly loosing yorself to the thoughtstream and staying grounded much more easily in the present moment.
You can use them with eyes open or closed, but if you feel you’re getting dragged into the raging river of thoughts, you can open your eyes and look at the beads.
For a description of the mala and a visual demonstration on their use, please see the video below: