Updated: Sep 7
Proponents of what’s called, ‘Kemetic Yoga’ claim that the practice of ‘Yoga’ actually pre-dates the detailed and standardized source texts developed in India, where it is commonly believed Yoga has its roots. Despite Egypt having its own uniquely developed spiritual tradition and metaphysical path, teachers of Kemetic yoga stake claim on the standardized detachment process called Yoga, expounded and recorded by what we know of as historically Indian bodied adepts.
Could this be true?
Justifiably, one might think that this could be yet another attempt to exploit the already exhausted pseudo yoga market. There’s a yoga for everything and everyone - and now there’s also a yoga specifically for black people.
And not just for black people but developed by black people.
The message is clear – yet the assertion deserves a deeper look.
I am interested both cultures, ancient Egypt and ancient India, and have studied them independent of each other. As a younger, less knowledgeable teacher I even introduced my students to ‘Smai Twai’, which I had learned was a term African teachers used to identify a yoga-like practice performed by ancient Egyptians. The words smai twai are from the Metu Neter language. I showed students the few postures I had seen from carvings and hieroglyphs.
I had yet to do a deep study back then and didn’t realize that Kemetic yoga teachers actually claim Yoga was not even from India at all. I tried a lot of things back then in my classes, before I was more informed. Now, after an arduous research bender, I can tell you firsthand that information on genuine ancient Egyptian practices are NOT easy to pin down. There are plenty of books and classes available where the teacher has interpreted or reinterpreted things themselves, added things from other cultures and then offer it up as being genuinely ancient Egyptian.
My research questions are:
Was a comparable psychologically detailed step by step system for spiritual liberation purposes developed in ancient Egypt? (Who is the Kemetin Patanjali/What are the Kemetic 8 limbs?)
What are the original sources of an early Egyptian/African/Kemetin step by step liberation process so comparable to the Indian Yoga which was standardized and immortalized in numerous source texts, and traceable to Indian authors, that they are interchangeable?
What was the name of this practice that Yoga used to be called in ancient Egypt?
Why don’t Kemetic Yoga teachers exclusively use the metu neter language and terminology instead using the dissimilar Sanskrit language terminology?
I looked for answers using these sources:
- Metu Neter, the classical language of Kemet, also known as hieroglyphs
Pert Em Heru, also known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead
Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, Resurrection Text
Sarcophagus, tomb carvings and art
Study of the actual Kemetic process which includes: Shemzu (deity of worship), Shetaut Neter, four principles which are:
1) The neter, supreme being, is one and alone, manifesting everywhere and in all beings in the forms of Gods and Goddesses
2) Lack of righteousness brings fetters to the personality, and these fetters cause ignorance of the divine.
3) Devotion to the divine leads to freedom of the fetters of Set.
4) The practice of the Shedy disciplines leads to knowing oneself and the divine. This is called being true of speech.
Shedy disciplines are:
study of wisdom teachings,
devotion to God,
behaving with righteous,
I also studied:
Lectures by Ra Un Nefer Amen
Kemet University Ancient Egyptian Philosophy Study website compiled by Dr. Muata Ashby as well as many of his books, classes and lectures.
Numerous online groups, blogs and websites devoted to Kemetic Yoga
My own in depth study including scientific and meditation research of the science of Melanin - primary teachers are Dr. Phillip Valentine and Sister Deborah Maat.
On The Surface
Kemetic Yoga, on the surface, may sound like just another thing attaching itself to the highly marketable word ‘Yoga’. Unfortunate it is that so many different supposed Yoga's are being offered by pseudo studios with teachers ignorant of even the basics of source text Yoga.
By now we’re conditioned to not take Yoga seriously and to just accept whatever the next new thing is: all the “ananda” Yogas, Ashtangi Yoga, Power Yoga, Holy Yoga, Beer Yoga, Goat Yoga, Trapeze Yoga, Yin Yoga, Hot Yoga, Wine Yoga, Pot Yoga, Naked Yoga, Yoga for Cancer, Yoga for Weight loss, Yoga for Golfers, Yoga for Whatever.
But look closer at Kemetic yoga and you’ll quickly note it is marketed primarily to American black people – by American black people. Teachers offer reassurances to students that what they are doing is African in nature and origin. They teach that western white people doing crude stretches reflect what Indian Yoga is focused on. They say that ‘hatha’ yoga is merely a physical practice and that in Kemetic classes the focus is on breathing and meditation. Kemetic Yoga teachers teach their students certain physical positions that mimic depictions of gods and goddesses in hieroglyphs which are to bring them toward divine consciousness.
I’m not sure if Kemetic Yoga teachers have studied the source text called Hatha Yoga Pradipika, I never heard it mentioned. It is one of the three main sources texts for Yoga. The other two being the Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita. With even minimal study it is obvious that Hatha Yoga is very complex and certainly not just exercises. Therefore, white people doing pseudo yoga in America is NOT a reflection of what Indian Yoga is as it is found in the authoritative books or from what we observe from the practices and lifestyles of learned yogis and yoginis.
People educated on Yoga know that the exercise fad in America calling itself yoga is a farce.
Kemetic teachers show a few paintings of humans in stretch positions and claim these show yoga started in Egypt. Yet physical postures are normal for basic health and humans have surely been stretching since their beginning. It's instinctive. A couple stretch depictions without any contextual elaboration on them is no reason to identify them as Indian asanas (postures).
I was unable to find source material on the postural instruction anywhere.
In addition, physical exercises done for the sake of the goals set out in Indian Yoga are only one of the eight limbs required to complete the system.
Speaking of the eight limbs, let’s address Patanjali.
Duplicitously, most of the Kemetic teachers I learned from at once use the limbs of Patanjali to explain Yoga - whilst stating yoga actually comes from Egypt – whilst saying that western Yoga is crude and represents Indian Yoga.
It's a dizzying spin - and unfortunately shows less than thorough knowledge of the meaning of the Sanskrit words Kemetic teachers are using so liberally.
I'm confused as to why one would refer to Patanajali at all if the practice originated in Kemet anyway?
There must be a Kemetan Patanjali?
A pre-Patanjali Patanjali that compiled advanced psychological control instruction?
By referring to Patanjali, Kemetic teachers show their awareness of what Indian Yoga is while, again, offering no clear example of an established Yoga-like practice from Ancient Egypt or a Patanjali equivalent guru– all the while dismissing the development of Yoga in India!
Compared to the enormous complexity and diversity of Indian religious development from Vedic times to modern Hinduism, Egyptian dynasties appeared to have practiced a dynamic, supernaturally charged, yet less inter-dimensionally complex, more stream lined version of an initiation process.
Like India, Egypt's version of a caste system was in full effect so it wasn't like every Joe Blow got to participate in attempts at the afterlife. For most Egyptians, once you died, it was lights out. Their was only afterlife for those who possessed the knowledge.
The primary afterlife concern in ancient Egypt was preparation for navigation through the afterworld (Duat) in the hopes of being deemed eligible to mingle with the gods. Most don’t make it. Most don’t know the incantations or have a scarab to assist them in concealing any heaviness of heart that they might be judged negatively for by the gods. If deemed unworthy the soul is devoured by an alligator headed god and lost for eternity.
An aspirant would spend much time during physical life preparing and learning spells for the strange and treacherous journey through the duat. A process that if successful ended with eternal life as a prosperous farmer in the world of Ma’at, the mother goddess.
To prepare for this, one would live in accordance with the Shetaut Neter and practice the Shedy principles – which are simple and straightforward and listed above – yet lacking in any non-modern detailed elaboration. I about broke my brain trying to find it.
That’s always been the difference between Yoga and all the other mystic and religious practices I’ve studied. The details. No other system is as highly detailed, well developed and specific about the practice and the goals.
Another point to remember is that Yoga is about purification through practice and meditation, not rituals. Rituals are part of Egyptian spiritual life from beginning to end. I did not find a mystic liberation practice absent of ritual.
Very importantly too, the meditation processes are different and this is key because Yoga is so specific, Patanjali is so specific in his meditation requirements. Teachers of Kemetic yoga routinely instruct students to visualize symbology during meditation - such as visualizing the Ankh.
While in Patanjali Yoga/Indian Yoga visualization is restricted.
The afterlife concepts of ancient Egypt and ancient India are so distinctive as to not seem compatible. Short study of the Egyptian Book of the Dead will make that abundantly clear.
Yoga is based on the principles of reincarnation and understanding it is imperative to progress. A yogi would never conceive that he or she would be returning to one's dead physical body for 'rebirth' - hence the comparative lack of focus on physical preservation.
A concept in Egyptian afterlife beliefs holds that one will return to one's physical corpse, for rebirth.
Indian's generally cremate - or put the body in the Ganges.
This would be unheard of in Egypt.
No Need for Religion?
Theoretically, one could make claim that the Hebrew Ten Commandments are a precursor to the yamas and niyamas of the Patanjali yoga system. Or vice versa. Could that mean that ancient Judaism could be the origin of the Yoga instructions? Maybe Yoga started in Ethiopia or ancient Babylon?
In one of the lectures by Ra Un Nefer Amun he stated that the Kemetic science was not considered religion anyway. That the African people had no need for religion. He defined religion as the binding of two things together like ligaments bound to bone. You can see the root 'lig' in the word religion.
He claimed that the ancient Egyptian people had no need for any process that linked them to God – because they were never separated from God in the first place - therefore there would be no need for a spiritual practice that yoked the two entities together.
This one statement negates the entire purpose of Yoga – yoking, harnessing one's material energies and redirecting them to God. Yogi's believe it takes discipline to remain connect to one's highest source.
Vedic literature is profoundly diverse and is undoubtedly the world’s largest pantheon of source texts including: The Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata (Bhagavad Gita), 18 Puranas, The Srimad Bhagavatam (which in chapter 5 details the layout of the inter-dimensional cosmos in a way never seen before or since), The Yoga Sutras, Kundalini Hatha Yoga Pradipika and more.
It is the elaborate explaining of the higher states of psychological control and transcendence that set Indian texts apart from all others...and still does.
So I sought, in the remains of what humans have found thus far in the unearthing of the ever curious and fantastic ancient Egypt, the existence of texts comparable to the high psychology and meditation requirements like those we find laid out by the ancient Vedic and Hindu culture?
The answer is no, not that I could find….and none of the teachers named any that ended up legitimately and clearly correlating with the Sanskrit Yoga texts. I listed above the sources I used for this research, if I missed something specific, please let me know.
None of the stories or deity past times I found correlate or are even similar enough to be considered possibly connected.
The languages are dissimilar, Metu Neter and Sanskrit, even pre-Sanskrit.
Why Yoga? Why Not Sema?
In closing I address my last question:
So if Yoga did originate in Egypt, why use the word Yoga at all?
Why refer to the Indian Patanjali at all??
Such a confusing contradiction that even the master teachers of Kemetic yoga trip over themselves with crisscross referencing between Egypt and - believe it or not - Greece - and with only quick reference to India - but lots to the 8 limbs of Patanjali.
(I learned far more from Kemetic yoga teachers about Egypt's connection with Greece and ideas about Atlantis than I did about Egypt's alleged migration of Yoga to India.)
Sema is the word in the Metu Neter language that means union. Union is the way Kemetic teachers translate yoga. And in one out of about one hundred websites I viewed referred to class using the word Sema as a native word for their practice. They still used Yoga, but at least included Sema.
Why not use the Metu Neter all the time for consistency - and to honor the practice as being complete on its own?
Maybe the word Yoga sells better?
Maybe it’s a trend trigger?
That’s why most people attach something to it.
To make money off of it and collect adoring students.
If It Were Me
If I were a Kemetic Yoga teacher I would instruct myself to forget about Yoga and just teach the Shedy principles. I might call my classes Kemetic Shedy or the Afrcian Shedy.
Or offer Yoga separately.
Either way, I would be forced to accept, based on evidence, that they are two different practices - and that when attempted to be combined the value of both is substantially lessened.
I would find a teacher, a true wisdom teacher, to help me execute properly The Shedy.
I would hunt down teachers who could translate Metu Neter for me accurately and without bias.
Neterianism would suffice me and I would not try to justify it by adding another distinctly differing practice to it. I would not insult it by suggesting it needed something more added.
I conclude each path is distinctive and should be practiced independent of each other - and with all due respect given by each to both.
Shanti and Hotep
devaPriya Yogini (Erinn Earth) is a Yoga teacher in this life - and was also a yoga teacher in her immediate past life. A student of Yoga’s primary texts and deep practices her primary guru is Michael Beloved. Guyanese born, Michael has provided the world with much needed honest translations and highly provocative commentaries on the classical Yoga authoritative texts including those found listed in this article: Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, Kundalini Hatha Yoga Pradipika and many more. His inSelf Yoga is a collection of the most advanced practices of Yoga. Check out his forum at inselfyoga.com