Kemetic Yoga 101: What is Kemetic Yoga?
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP
Although yoga is commonly believed to have originated in India, there is increasing evidence that yoga was actually much more widespread, with some roots of yoga practice in Africa. Kemetic yoga is one such example of a unique yoga style that originated in Egypt. The kemetic yoga style is a synthesis of Egyptian spirituality with yoga philosophy that provides a similar experience to traditional Indian yoga classes but with an African twist.
In this article, we will explore the foundations of kemetic yoga along with its history, benefits, and the best kemetic yoga poses so that you can begin to explore this profound practice on your own. So, let’s get started!
Kemetic yoga, also known as Smai Tawi, African Yoga, or Egpytian Yoga, traces its roots back to ancient Egyptian history. Kemetic yoga classes often look very similar to other yoga practices incorporating a range of yoga poses or asana along with pranayama or breathwork and meditation. But the unique element of kemetic yoga comes with its philosophical underpinnings. The ultimate goal of kemetic yoga is to influence the flow of energy in the body to facilitate spiritual awakening or enlightenment.
Kemetic yoga classes are often practiced at a slower pace than other yoga styles. The main focus of many kemetic yoga classes is on meditation and awakening of the chakras or energy centers in the body. Many of the yoga poses used in kemetic yoga are similar to other yoga styles, but there is a greater emphasis on the specific yoga poses depicted in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The kemetic name for kemetic yoga is “Smai Tawi,” which can be roughly translated to mean the union of the upper Kemet and lower Kemet. This concept of inner and outer unity in kemetic yoga has a deeper signification through the connection to the Egyptian gods Heru and Sebek, which are also correlated with the spine and lungs. Ultimately, this imagery signifies how kemetic yoga provides practitioners with the experience of physical and spiritual unity through the union of the breath with physical movement and higher meditative consciousness.
Although yoga was previously believed to only have its roots in India, there is increasing evidence that ancient Egyptians also had their own form of yoga practice. The first evidence of kemetic yoga comes from hieroglyphic images that were found on Egyptian temples depicting various Egyptian pharaohs and goddesses in yoga postures.
In the 1970s, Asar Hapi and Yirser Ra Hotep conducted the first research project to analyze these hieroglyphs and developed the practice that we now know as kemetic yoga. The word Kemet or KMT was actually the ancient name of Egypt during the period of time when pharaohs ruled, and Egypt was at its peak of civilization and spiritual development.
Although this yoga practice is open to people of all races and ethnicities, kemetic yoga is a unique practice tailored toward the experience of black and brown individuals that provides them with the opportunity to explore deeper into African spiritual traditions. Many contemporary yoga spaces ignore the history and significance of kemetic yoga, which is often credited as another example of the oppression against black and brown individuals in the United States.
Given this conflicted history, it is not surprising that kemetic yoga is not more well-known or popular. But it is undeniable that kemetic yoga has legitimate ancient roots and can be a profound practice for spiritual growth and physical wellbeing. Cultures have been communicating and sharing their wisdom for millennia, and kemetic yoga is one such example of the cross-cultural expansion and adaption of yoga around the world.
The unique aspect of kemetic yoga is that it genuinely goes beyond the physical to harness the power of the subtle body for spiritual awakening. Yoga, in its original Indian roots, also emphasized the aspects of self-development and enlightenment, but this has been lost in many modern yoga styles. Kemetic yoga brings yoga practitioners back to the roots of these practices with its greater focus on spiritual development and awakening.
Beyond the spiritual side, kemetic yoga also provides many benefits to the body and mind, including:
· Balances the spinal column
· Corrects the skeletal and muscular systems
· Relieves stress
· Increases blood circulation
· Supports oxygenation and nutrition of the body
· Increase the flow of life force energy
· Enhances cerebral spinal fluid movement
· Improves focus and concentration
· Promotes inner peace and spiritual awakening
· Enhances resiliency
With the regular practice of kemetic yoga, you can experience a profound unity of the body, mind, and soul rooted in the ancient wisdom of Egyptian spirituality. Kemetic yoga provides people of African descent with a unique yoga practice that meets their needs and honors their roots, giving them a truly inclusive and accessible experience that other Indian yoga styles often cannot provide.
Many yoga poses in kemetic yoga are similar to other yoga styles. But the unique elements of kemetic yoga poses come through the incorporation of the yoga poses depicted in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. By adapting these same postures, yoga students can connect to this beautiful ancient lineage and harness the secret energetic power of these postures for the body, mind, and soul.
See below for a brief description of some of the most popular kemetic yoga poses:
1. Mummy Pose
This kemetic yoga pose is similar to the Indian yoga pose of Corpse Pose, or savasana. Mummy pose connects yoga practitioners with the concept of spiritual resurrection and reminds us of the innate spiritual nature of all people.
2. Nefertem Pose
This yoga pose uniquely honors the ancient Egyptian god Nefertem who is shown in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics with a lotus flower on his head. This yoga pose is similar to the Indian yoga pose of lotus pose or padmasana, but it more deeply emphasizes the process of rebirth and the spiritual connection to this powerful Egyptian god.
3. Geb Pose
This yoga pose focuses on nourishing the spine, called djed in kemetic yoga. By balancing and strengthening the spine, the kemetic yoga philosophy posits that we can facilitate the movement of energy through the body and spiritual awakening through unity consciousness. This yoga pose is similar to the Indian yoga pose of seated spinal twist or ardha matsyendrasana.
4. Anpu Pose
Anpu is the ancient Egyptian god of the dead that serves as the bridge between the material and spiritual worlds. This position emulates an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph of this god, where he is shown kneeling with one hand resting on the heart and the other raised upwards. This posture represents the letting go of the ego and facilitating purity of mind and action.
5. Selkhet Pose
Selkhet is another ancient Egyptian goddess connected to the world of the dead and the underworld. Embodying this yoga pose, kemetic yoga students can embody the energy of this goddess and facilitate the flow of life force energy. This yoga pose is similar to the Indian yoga pose of mountain pose or tadasana.
6. Heruamkhet Pose
This yoga pose is an embodiment of the sacred ancient Egyptian symbol of the sphinx. Appearing very similar to a combination of the Indian yoga poses of sphinx pose or bhujangasana and child’s pose or balasana, this yoga pose goes even deeper into the Egyptian yoga philosophy by embodying the power of this unique being.
7. Sobek Pose
This yoga pose is also based on an ancient Egyptian god connected with the Nile or West African crocodile. This yoga pose is also commonly called the crocodile pose, although it is not similar to the Indian crocodile pose. Instead, this yoga pose is more closely physically related to the pigeon pose or kapotasana.
8. BONUS: Kemetic Breath
Beyond the physical postures, kemetic yoga often has a much greater emphasis on breathwork and meditation. The kemetic breath involves inhaling energy up the spine to the third eye center, holding the breath for a few seconds, exhaling the energy down the body to the tips of the toes, and then holding again for a few seconds. This synchronized breathing practice balances the mind and deepens the energetic experience in kemetic yoga.
Kemetic yoga provides students with a profound opportunity to access ancient Egyptian spirituality with an embodied experience of yoga practice. No matter what yoga style you are teaching, the foundations of anatomy and teaching skills are the same. When becoming a yoga teacher, it is essential to first get a foundation of yoga practice in a range of yoga styles to give you a broad understanding of the vastness of yoga techniques.
In our online yoga teacher training course, we give you all the tools you need to set a strong foundation as a yoga teacher from which you can adapt and explore other yoga techniques, including kemetic yoga. With a deep understanding of anatomy, teaching theory, and safe instruction of yoga techniques, you can teach your students any yoga style. So, join us in our online yoga teacher training to start your exciting journey as a yoga teacher today!