Originating from the ancient civilization of Kemet, today known as Egypt, Kemetic Yoga (or Egyptian Yoga) has unfolded as a distinct path within the vast yoga traditions. Its roots dig deep into African soil, reflecting a profound connection to the continent’s rich history and spirituality. Kemetic Yoga poses exist to prioritize mental and spiritual harmony, utilizing meditative poses to align the practitioner with the universe, similar to the philosophies and practices of ancient yoga of the Indian subcontinent.

Master Yirser Ra Hotep and Dr. Asar Hapi have been pivotal in shaping the contemporary practice of Kemetic Yoga. They have highlighted its unique focus on slow movements and alignment, distinguishing it from other yoga practices. Through their efforts, a nuanced understanding of this African tradition has emerged, offering insights into a holistic approach to wellness.

This article defines broadly what yoga is, in terms of both Indian and Egyptian contexts, and looks at the similarities between the two. It then zooms in on a few Kemetic yoga poses that bear striking similarities to those found in Indian Yoga, both traditional and modern. This article is not intended to argue which came first, but more to highlight that both offer pathways to enlightenment and thus both can be revered equally.

Key Takeaways:

  • African roots of Kemetic Yoga: Its origins in ancient Egypt (Kemet) are somewhat similar to traditional Indian Yoga, in terms of practice and theory.
  • Mental and Spiritual focus: Emphasizes meditative poses for mind and spirit health over physical exertions.
  • Contribution of key figures: Master Yirser Ra Hotep and Dr. Asar Hapi have been instrumental in modernizing and spreading its practice, as has Dr. Muata Ashby.

Skip ahead to…

Defining Kemetic Yoga and Indian Yoga 

If the idea that Yoga may not be only from India makes you feel a little uncomfortable, you’re not alone. It did for me, too. However, one essential tenet of Yogic philosophy is to maintain curiosity without judgment. So, to uphold our yogic values, we must look at Kemetic yoga while releasing our inherent biases.

Let’s look at some of the similarities the two hold in terms of defining what yoga is.

What does “yoga” mean?

In Sanskrit, the Indian language of yoga, the word “yoga” comes from “yog” or “yuj”, meaning to unite, to yoke, or to link back to. Very simply put, it is the practice of yoking the individual worldly self to the transcendent Higher Self, to reach a state of enlightenment – the highest level of spiritual awakening, known as Samadhi.

In Kemetic Yoga, the ancient Egyptian term “Smai Tawi” is used. Smai translates to “union”, with “Smai Tawi” meaning “the union of two lands”. These two lands are the Upper Land (representing the Higher Self) and the Lower Land (representing the worldly individual self of egoism, temptation, and an uncontrolled mind).

When did these terms first appear?

The term “yoga” first appears in the Rig Veda. The Vedas are four collections of ancient Indian scripture that are believed to have formed the foundations of Hinduism. It is thought they were codified anywhere between 1500 BCE and 700 BCE. Yes, that is a large 800-year time frame but it’s important to remember that humans are perfectly imperfect now, and they were back then, too. Not everything was recorded with impeccable accuracy as frustrating as that might be for those of us now wanting definitive answers.

Interestingly, the Vedas appear to correlate with teachings in Prt M Hru (alternatively known as Pret Em Heru, or the Book of the Dead). This ancient Egyptian scripture, thought to be written anywhere between 1500 BCE and 50 BCE (!) is concerned with life after death, the divine, and reaching enlightenment. That is an almost insulting simplification of both Prt M Hru and The Vedas, but this is after all an article about the Kemetic Yoga Poses. For a more in-depth look at both the history of Kemetic Yoga and its philosophy, I recommend these books.

Recommended Reading about Kemetic Yoga Poses

A book about Kemetic Yoga poses by Dr. Muata Ashby and Dr. Karen Dja Ashby
A book by Dr Muata Ashby on Kemetic Yoga Origins
A book on Egyptian Yoga philiosophy by Dr. Muata Ashby

In what other ways are Indian Yoga and Kemetic Yoga similar?

Snakes. Before you balk and click away, let me explain. Snakes have vast mythical significance across many cultures. Let’s look first at the power of the serpent in Indian Yoga.

Snakes in Indian Yoga: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

One of the central tomes in Indian Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. If we were to do a rudimentary English translation, it would result in something like “Patanjali’s Threads of Yoga”. (Fun fact, the word “suture” comes from the Sanskrit “sutra” meaning to thread or to stitch). So, who is Patanjali?

Legend states that as Panini, a writer and grammarian, prepared to pray, a small coiled serpent dropped from heaven into his just-about-to-close-to-pray hands. “Pata” means “falling” and “Anjali” means “joined hands. If you’ve ever heard your yoga teacher say something like “Bring your hands together at the heart center in Anjali Mudra”, they are directing you to join your palms in a prayer position. Anyway, this little serpent then began to whisper to Panini the values and ideas that form the essence of yoga philosophy. Panini, being a grammarian, wrote them all down. Hence, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Snakes in Indian Yoga: Kundalini

Kundalini Yoga is a stem of Tantra Yoga that utilizes movement, breathwork, and meditation to awaken Kundalini.

Kundalini is said to be a dormant feminine energy coiled at the base of the spine reminiscent of a sleeping serpent. The practice of Kundalini Yoga awakens this energy and encourages it to rise up through the body using left and right channels (Ida and Pingala) that pass through seven energy centers (chakras). Enlightenment is achieved when Kundalini reaches the seventh chakra.

Snakes in Kemetic Yoga: Uraeus

Kundalini’s Egyptian counterpart appears to be Uraeus. Uraes also passes through what Muata Ashby, on page 18 of his book “The African Origins of Hatha Yoga” refers to as “the seven souls of Ra” (Ra being a God or Father). He likens these seven souls to the seven chakras, explaining that once Uraeus has passed through all seven, enlightenment is achieved.

Where Kundalini is represented in dual form through Ida and Pingala, the God Asar is resurrected through a goddess in dual form called Nebethet Arat and Aset Arat. Ashby asserts that the depiction of the latter predates similar depictions in pictographs from the Pre-Aryan Indus Valley (now Pakistan), suggesting that India adopted “certain teachings, disciplines, and iconographies that were not in India” (p.17 of the middle book in these photos) before evidence of contact between the two cultures.

Other significant similarities between Indian Yoga and Kemetic Yoga

Let’s look at a couple more similarities between the two practices, to really hit home how intertwined they appear to be. We will begin with the philosophies behind the word “Yoga” that run through both systems.

The Many Paths of Yoga

It’s no secret that yoga, in Indian contexts, is vast. There are a plethora of pathways to reach enlightenment. That’s right. You were here looking for ways to get more flexible and ended up getting far more than you bargained for. Still, all of it is a means to find greater peace and well-being, so it’s kind of a decent tradeoff when you think about it.

In Indian contexts, yoga is categorized into four different paths. These paths also seem to correlate seamlessly with the four philosophies found in Kemetic yoga. Below this is depicted as follows:

The Indian Sanskrit name (a very brief description): the English translation:  the name in Kemetic contexts:

1. Karma Yoga (a life of action that improves the lives of others): Yoga of Selfless Service: Maat Yoga

2. Raja Yoga (described in the Bhagavad Gita as the yoga of discipline, and in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as thoughts and observances in a kind of framework or map to achieving enlightenment): Yoga of Meditation: to the best of my knowledge Kemetic Yoga 

3. Jnana Yoga (a practice of self-study and scripture study to seek understanding of the soul and the Divine): Yoga of Wisdom: Rekh Yoga

4. Bhakti Yoga: A practice of prayer, chanting, and mantra to transcend the workings of the mind to understand the Divine: Yoga of Devotion: Ushet Yoga

Now, different teachers had different beliefs around this, but I was taught at Akasha Yoga Academy that Hatha Yoga (different from “Hatha yoga class” styles you might find in a studio), Tantra Yoga, and Kundalini Yoga are forms of Raja Yoga. There are other branches of Raja Yoga too, but that is going beyond the scope of this article.

Similarities in approaches to practice

The ancient Egyptians believed that the alignment of the spinal column was crucial for achieving higher consciousness. Through the practice of Kemetic Yoga, they aligned their skeletal and muscular systems, enhancing the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, a vital component for mental and emotional health. This practice offered a pathway to a balanced life, harmonizing the internal life force energy (known as “Sekhem” in Kemetic Yoga).

Similarly, Indian Yoga, including Hatha Yoga, springs from the Indus Valley Civilization (now Pakistan), offering a path to enlightenment through a series of physical postures, deep breathing exercises, and meditation to cultivate the flow of internal life force energy (known as “Prana” in Sanskrit, or also “Kundalini”).

Kemetic Yoga and traditional Indian Yoga go beyond the physical postures commonly associated with Modern Yoga. Both incorporate a unique approach to breath control, significantly improving oxygen supply and blood circulation. This regenerative yoga system fosters a meditative state where deep breathing acts as a vehicle for spiritual awakening. By integrating these practices into daily routines, practitioners are said to experience not just physical health benefits, but also a profound spiritual development, unlocking serenity and a sense of unity with the universe.

Kemetic Yoga revolves around spiritual awakening and the regeneration of the entire body by activating vital body systems and enhancing cerebral spinal fluid circulation. The practices of physical movements were designed by ancient Egyptian priests.

Meanwhile, Indian Yoga often focuses on achieving a balanced body and mind to achieve Samadhi (enlightenment). Modern interpretations of Indian Yoga have a strong emphasis on physical health improvement and stress reduction.

These distinct paths embody a shared quest for enlightenment, yet each holds a mirror to the rich cultural tapestry from which it originates.

Foundational Kemetic Yoga Poses

For a close look at Kemetic Yoga poses, I highly recommend these books by Dr. Muata Ashby and Dr. Karen Dja Ashby. Here I look at 10 Kemetic Yoga Poses they describe, and where relevant provide their closest Indian counterparts.

1. Karast Pose (Corpse Pose)

Karast means “Mummy”. Though the Mummy is physically dead, spirit can never die. Thus, from death life is created. Typically this pose is held for two minutes, representing the time before creation where nothing existed.

Much like Corpse Pose (Savasana), the practitioner is still, detached, and relaxed.

2. Nefertem Lotus Pose (Lotus Pose)

In Kemetic Yoga, the lotus represents creation itself, and Nefertem as its master. Nefertem is a God in child form, representing the innocence at the beginning of creation. The pose strongly resembles Lotus Pose (Padmasana) from Indian Yogic contexts.

It’s in this pose that the practitioner chants “Words of Power” which are in vibrational harmony to the environment. Interestingly, “Om” is one of these words.

A woman is sitting in Lotus Pose. This is a kemetic yoga pose as well as an Indian yoga pose.

3. Nun Pose (From a Deep Squat to Standing)

Nun is a God of Creation. Thought to reside deep in water, he then lifted a Divine Boat out of the ocean, beginning the process of further creation.

This pose resembles the transition from a deep squat (Malasana) to a strong standing position, on tiptoes, with arms stretched up above – similar to Mountain Pose with arms overhead (Utthitha Hasatasana).

4. The Journey of Ra (Classical Sun Salutations)

This is a flow of 12 poses that all correlate almost exactly with the poses found in classical sun salutations (Surya Namaskar C as it is often referred to).

Ra is a God symbolized by the sun. As the sun sets, Ra traverses the underworld, until the sun rises again in the morning. The sun rises and sets with consistency and discipline, which are values the practitioner is guided to hold during the practice of The Journey of Ra.

In their book “Egyptian Yoga: Postures of the Gods and Goddesses” Dr. Muata Ashby and Dr. Karen Dja Ashby provide a much more in-depth explanation of the legend behind this flow of poses, which makes for a very interesting read.

5. The Geb Plough Posture (Plough Pose)

Depicted in The Temple of Hetheru in Egypt, this pose is thought to awaken life force energy. In Kemetic and Indian Yoga, this life force energy is thought to reside in the spine. Plough Pose (Halasana in Sanskrit) focuses largely on the spine, from the base to the neck.

The practitioner lies down face up, then brings both legs up overhead and rests the tiptoes on the floor behind the head.

6. The Wheel Pose (Also Wheel or Upward Bow Pose in Indian Yoga)

In Kemetic Yoga, this pose (Urdhva Danurasana in Sanskrit) is thought to awaken or stimulate the energetic centers along the spine (the seven souls of Ra). In Indian Yoga, these energetic centers are Chakras. Once chakras are cleared and stimulated, Kundalini can rise up the spine to the seventh chakra, resulting in enlightenment. A similar process is believed to occur in Kemetic Yoga.

7. The Seated Nut Pose (Forward Fold)

The Nut Pose is a standing forward fold, so this is the seated version, hugely resemblant to seated forward folds in Indian Yoga (paschimottanasana).

Nut, a goddess, represents the heavens. She is the wife of Geb (from Geb Plough Posture), who represents Earth. As the Sky envelops the Earth, Nut envelopes Geb. This is represented through the forward fold position (both seated and standing).

8. The Spinal Twist (Lord of the Fishes)

This is a seated spinal twist, with one leg extended and the other bent, with the option of bringing the foot of the bent leg to the outside knee of the straight leg.

As in Lord of the Fishes (Matsyendrasana), the aim is to keep the spine as straight as possible so life force energy has a clear pathway through which to rise.

A woman is practicing a seated spinal twist. This is an ancient Kemetic yoga pose.

9. Selket Pose (Locust Pose)

Selket is a scorpion goddess, so this could also be named Scorpion Pose. Its closest variation in Indian Yoga is Locust Pose (Salabhasana). In Kemetic contexts, the scorpion is seen less as a poisonous creature and more as a protective one.

This is a prone pose, where both legs lift in the air, strengthening the back. The arms can be flat underneath the body or also reaching out in front and lifting.

10. Aset Throne Pose (Chair Pose)

Aset, a goddess of the physical universe, is symbolized by a throne. Aset, alongside Asar (the incarnation of the soul), is sent to Earth to lead humanity toward spiritual enlightenment.

This pose is very much like Chair Pose (Utkatasana) in Indian Yoga. With a straight spine and arms reaching overhead or in front, the practitioner sits down in their imaginary throne or chair.

There are plenty more Kemetic yoga poses to explore, but as this is a beginner-friendly site, I don’t want to overwhelm you with a lengthy post on every pose. There are far better scholars out there to look to for that, Dr. Muata Ashby being one of them

Two women are practicing Chair pose. This is a Kemetic Yoga pose called Aset Throne Pose.

Breath Control in Kemetic Yoga Practice

In practicing Kemetic Yoga poses, mastering breath control serves as a cornerstone. It elevates the effectiveness of each pose, making deep breathing a pivotal component. The oxygen supply throughout our body increases with each controlled inhale and exhale. This vital process aids in boosting blood circulation, ensuring that every cell receives the nourishment it needs.

The ancient Egyptians, aware of these benefits, integrated breath control into their yoga practices, shaping an intrinsic part of the Kemetic yoga system. With improved blood flow and oxygen levels, practitioners often experience heightened vitality and a stronger internal life force energy. Moreover, the cerebral spinal fluid, responsible for cushioning the brain and spine, benefits from regulated breathing. As a result, the body’s vital systems, including the skeletal and muscular structures, demonstrate enhanced functionality and alignment. This holistic approach, established on the foundations set by masters like Dr. Asar Hapi and Yirser Ra Hotep, underscores the interconnectedness of breath to our physical health and spiritual development.

Dr Muata Ashby and Dr Karen Dja Ashby outline two breathwork practices found in Kemetic yoga that also exist as fundamental components of Indian Yoga. These are three-part breath and alternative nostril breathing. Both these practices are suitable for yoga beginners, as long as you practice under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

Kemetic Yoga Teachers 

Master Yirser Ra Hotep and Dr. Asar Hapi have become synonymous with the Kemetic practice, guiding many to discover not just the physical postures but the philosophy that underpins them. Their efforts, among others, have been instrumental in demystifying this practice for the Western world and ensuring its rightful place among the diverse styles of yoga practiced today.

Master Yirser Ra Hotep has perhaps emerged as the most senior instructor, revered not just in the United States but globally. His deep understanding of the Kemetic philosophy, combined with a profound commitment to physical and spiritual development, sets him apart. As a yoga master, he has developed a comprehensive kemetic yoga system that integrates ancient wisdom with modern needs. Training under such expertise offers a unique opportunity.

Embarking on a Journey of Enlightenment

Embarking on a journey of enlightenment through Kemetic Yoga presents a unique opportunity. It opens the door to a path less traveled, one deeply entrenched in the ancient wisdom of our ancestors from the banks of the Nile Valley. Rooted in the profound spiritual heritage of Kemet, this practice transcends mere physical postures. It beckons us toward a higher consciousness, inviting a harmonious alignment between our internal life force energy and the universe’s vast expanse.

Allow me to restate that this post is not about which came first, or deciding who should claim “ownership” of yoga. That is not my place, nor is it the essence of any form of yoga. Instead, it is to provide a beginner-friendly introduction to the concept and existence of Kemetic yoga poses alongside a very brief history and definition of yoga, regardless of whether it is Kemetic or Indian. What we can establish though, is that yoga is far greater than purely exercise. Reducing it to just a fitness regime does a severe injustice to Indian and Egyptian culture, civilization, and history.

FAQs about Kemetic Yoga Poses

1. What distinguishes Kemetic Yoga from other yoga practices?

Kemetic Yoga emphasizes slow movements and alignment, prioritizing mental and spiritual harmony over physical exertions. Its roots in ancient Egypt (Kemet) reflect a unique connection to African spirituality and history.

2. How do Kemetic Yoga poses compare to Indian Yoga poses?

Kemetic Yoga poses bear similarities to Indian Yoga poses, reflecting shared philosophies and practices such as breath control, meditative postures, and alignment techniques. For instance, poses like the Lotus Pose and Corpse Pose have counterparts in both traditions.

3. What role does breath control play in Kemetic Yoga practice?

Breath control is fundamental in Kemetic Yoga, enhancing the effectiveness of poses and promoting deep relaxation. Practices such as three-part breath and alternative nostril breathing are integrated into Kemetic Yoga, similar to their counterparts in Indian Yoga.

4. Who are some key figures in the modernization and spread of Kemetic Yoga?

Master Yirser Ra Hotep and Dr. Asar Hapi have been instrumental in shaping and popularizing Kemetic Yoga, making significant contributions to its modernization and dissemination, along with scholars like Muata Ashby.

5. What is the overarching goal of practicing Kemetic Yoga?

Practicing Kemetic Yoga offers a pathway to enlightenment and spiritual development, aligning the practitioner’s internal life force energy with the universe’s vast expanse. It transcends mere physical exercise, inviting practitioners to embark on a journey toward higher consciousness and harmony.