Origins of Yoga: Part I

I run into numerous yoga myths in the yoga community, but perhaps the most persistent myth I’ve encountered is the myth that modern yoga is part of a classical yoga tradition stretching back thousands of years. The idea of tradition, or heritage, within yoga practice is so widespread that nearly every practicing yogi and yoga organization makes claims about modern yoga’s heritage. In fact, such claims are often necessary to authenticate these people or organizations as legitimate within the field. (This very topic is one I’m researching right now for my dissertation, so I’m sure I will write more about later.) But is the origin narrative we find in yoga actually true?

The short answer to the question of whether modern yoga is as old as we say it is would be: “Sort of, but for the most part no.” I think this answer is one that ruffles the feathers of many yogis, who cherish and value the origin myth. This is particularly true for yoga teachers, who are often socialized to believe and embrace this myth wholeheartedly in their practice and their teaching by utilizing things like sanskrit, chanting, or the incorporation of mythological themes in their classes. These practices further perpetuate the belief in a classical yoga tradition among their students.

Since this is the beginning of my blog, I think it’s important to start out discussing some of the myths surrounding the origins of yoga. This is the first part of several blog posts that will focus on this topic, exploring the variety of “tall tales” that get told about the history of the practice. The final post in the series will be focused on why the myth persists and what purpose it serves for many yogis and the field as a whole.

I’d like to explore these myths chronologically in time, so the first myth about the origin of yoga is goes back quite far in “yoga history.” The practice of yoga is most often cited to be nearly 5,000 years old, having originated in ancient India. While this claim is itself questionable, and will be the topic of my second post in this series, there is another theory that claims the actual origin of yoga was Egypt c. 40,000 BCE.

Yoga in Egypt

Often referred to as Kemetic Yoga, advocates of this origin narrative claim yoga was practiced in Egypt and North African for nearly 10,000 years during the heyday of the Egyptian Empire. According to the theory, the idea that yoga is part of Indian heritage is in fact due to the migration of this practice from Africa into India, where it was eventually adopted and the claims we hear now of yoga’s Indian heritage formed. As a result, yoga is “actually” African, not Indian. This idea is based on hieroglyphics and artwork like the featured image above, and this one here:


This theory was proposed by one Dr. Muata Ashby in 1994, who even published a series of books on the topic. I think it’s important to note here that his doctorate is within Theology, rather than the social sciences, and that he is a self-proclaimed advocate for “the concept of the existence of advanced social and religious philosophy in ancient Africa comparable to the Eastern traditions.” In other words, his research is driven by a particular agenda and not grounded in vetted historical methods. Anyway, regardless of his credentials, his work has spurred the creation of several organizations, numerous facebook and twitter pages, and a variety of articles and blog posts about the “true” origins of yoga.


While it may be true that religious practices in Egypt looked like what we imagine yoga to be today and that within Egyptian texts there are mental and spiritual practices that resemble those of modern yoga, it’s a mistake to think that resemblance is the same thing as equivalence. Many spiritual institutions have similar practices and yet are not the same thing; many body practices look similar yet are not the same thing. Saying Egyptian spiritual/body practices were yoga is like saying prayer is meditation, and dance is postural asana. It just doesn’t equate.

The problem with this theory is that it isn’t in fact true. As Singleton (2010) and Doris Srinivasan (1984) have noted about other claims of yoga’s ancient Indian heritage, the interpretation of such visual “evidence” as hieroglyphs that depict what look like modern yoga postures or textual descriptions of spiritual practices as yoga is misplaced. Basically, it amounts to what Samuel (2008:8) has described as us “reading later practices into the material” to such a degree “that it is of little or no use for constructing any kind of history of practices.” In other words, believing yoga is in fact an ancient Egyptian (aka, African) practice is just a product of us seeing what we want to see in the records of the time and misinterpreting the data. It’s anachronistic.

Persistance of Myth

Then why has this myth persisted, and even gained in popularity since it was introduced in the 1990s? This is the real kicker. Kemetic Yoga has become popular primarily among African Americans, who have used the idea that yoga’s “true” heritage is from North Africa as a way to reclaim a practice that has been in recent decades dominated by whites. An academic study by Birdee et al. (2002) found a significant difference in racial composition of yogis, with 84% of practitioners being white and only 6% being African American (10% other). This is compared to Census data that shows African Americans make up 13% of the US population. But you don’t need this academic article to see whiteness in yoga; all you need to do is open an edition of Yoga Journal, where practically all the bodies portrayed are lithe, white women.

If yoga can be traced back to Africa (and I think it’s clear from the evidence that this is not actually the case, unless you can say the origin of french fries as a cultural phenomenon can be traced back to Chile since that’s where potatoes originated from) then it provides African Americans a way to reclaim yoga as a practice that is ultimately, well, black. Claims about Kemetic Yoga are a continuation of the black power movement that sought to reclaim artistic, cultural, and spiritual heritage for African Americans in a society that has (and continues to) be dominated by whiteness.

And here is where I’m torn. Because there is no denying that yoga is defined as white in our day and age, and most yogis would agree that they want to see yoga become more diverse and welcoming to people of color, particularly African Americans. In many ways, this population could stand to gain the most from adopting yoga. African Americans in the US have faced centuries of historical discrimination that has resulted in structural inequalities: on average, blacks today face higher rates of poverty, worse health, more stress, higher drop out rates, higher incarceration rates, and a variety of other inequalities studied by numerous sociologists. Yoga, as a practice that reduces stress and increases health, provides an outlet for youth and a way to turn a life around within and outside of prison, could be a powerful tool for African Americans.

If the yoga myth that yoga is at its root Egyptian serves to draw more black men and women into yoga, is this a bad thing? I don’t think it is. But I also know, that in my own life I value truth. I always want to know the truth, even if it is painful. A beautiful lie is another way to be controlled; it is the essence of cultural hegemony and practices of domination that have resulted in the very inequalities that African Americans face in the US today. I also think yoga is about uncovering truth, about being self-reflexive and mindful, and about revealing the lies that hold our true self prisoner to habit and conformity.

What do you think?

With love, light and…

Yoga ❤


66 thoughts on “Origins of Yoga: Part I”

  1. I completely understand this position; the argument that ‘ancient historical yoga’ has nothing to do with today’s practice, but is in fact used as perverse marketing. And yes, Singleton’s work clarifies the role that modern political and scientific ideas played in shaping the yoga we know. I used to engage in similar arguments with so-called traditionalists myself.

    I have changed my perspective on this, for several reasons. First, before dismissing Kemetic Yoga, I recommend investigating Abd’el Hakim Awyan. He is the recognized Ancient Wisdom keeper of Sufi mystics. I know that Western rationalists assume fraud, but I have investigated him and feel convinced of his authenticity. The reason this is important is because yoga in India has always been associated with a cyclical cosmology. New Age culture is mocked for this, but I now find it compelling to believe that a pre-Ancient civilization perfected a modality of Wisdom that they foresaw we would lose, and they left us these traces, which, yes, are similar across a wide spectrum of cultures. I recommend Georg Feuerstein’s history, in which he speaks of the Shamanic origins of Yoga (he capitalizes it). Shamanism is a touchy thing, because Western rational academics are allergic to “cultural approriation”. But great work has already been done, by Mircea Eliade, by Gordon Wasson, by Michael Harner, to demonstrate the degree to which Shamanic traditions across the world have commonalities that are significant, and I would consider yoga to be one of these Shamanic traditions. Recovering this Ancient Wisdom is, in a sense, like fulfilling a Prophecy, another idea that Western rationalist are allergic to.

    The reason I advocate such a position is that I think it actually helps with the process of Yoga. It is a process of pursuing Samadhi, what the Buddhists call Enlightenment, the Japanese Satori. To deny this fundamental teaching of yoga is, to me, the greatest injustice. I do not think this goal is illusory or fictional, I think the mind, as experienced, can be brought to higher levels of consciousness, just as the texts say. This is also the basis of the Hermetic tradition, which itself claims to come from ancient Egypt, through the message of Thoth. These are crazy ideas to the Western rationalist. I understand that. But I also believe them to be valuable ideas, in that they have teaching value, and may help others achieve the liberation that I somehow managed to experience.

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    1. How can anyone believe Yoga started in India when know all Things Started In Africa. When the European came to Africa Invade Destroy Everthing Of Value To Africa People Including They History ,Stolen their Art Work. Invade All Their Language, Religion, Spiritually, Food and Yoga Was Part African Culture. Either The People That Are In Egypt Now Are Not The Original People There.

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      1. This post points out that trying to argue yoga started in Africa is incredibly problematic, because there is no hard evidence to back up this claim that it diffused from the African continent to the region we now call India. In general, the claim that all things started in Africa is flawed as well, historically not all inventions are from Africa, so again, it’s a huge overgeneralization. Are there movement traditions that are similar across cultures? Yes. But to argue that because similar movements existed in various parts of the globe (and let’s be real, the human body and the movements we can do are not limitless) that somehow it means that all those cultures must be practicing the same thing is a misunderstanding of culture, history, and diffusion.

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  2. “While it may be true that religious practices in Egypt looked like what we imagine yoga to be today and that within Egyptian texts there are mental and spiritual practices that resemble those of modern yoga, it’s a mistake to think that resemblance is the same thing as equivalence.” AGREE TOTALLY – but – Singleton uses EXACTLY the same premise for his project too! Yoga Body (Book Review): Unqualifying “The Origins of Modern Postural Yoga Practice” (

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    1. I can understand this sentiment. With that said, I think there is generally just far less evidence (because of how long ago it was) for the Egyptian case, whereas Singleton had a large variety of documents, both in terms of magazines, books, ads, transcribed interviews, news stories, and other archival data to go on in researching his project, not to mention the familial or close network connections between very well-known physical culturists in India and several prominent postural yogis of the time that were instrumental in disseminating the postural tradition as we know it today (including Krishnamacharya). So there is a lot more to go on in that case. Is it 100% fool proof? No. But it’s definitely different enough from the Egyptian case to I think make this argument here, whereas I tend to lean on the other side of the scale and agree with Singleton for his argument about the more modern postural period in yoga.


  3. I see several “soft spots” with your perspective. First, trying to determine the origin of yoga is akin to finding the origin of music, walking or wearing clothes. These are activities that most human beings deal with regardless of the historical record. What is goal of yoga? What group of people have not, in their own way, have not had yoga aspirations? Apparently you can not perceive different “brand/ expressions” of yoga. Can you perceive differences in music? I notice that your article did not mention Chinese yoga, why not? My point is any culture can and have dealt with yoga irrespective your recognition.
    As for Egyptian yoga, your scholarship is lacking if you think that Kemetic yoga is based solely or primarily on a few drawings or inscriptions on a temple wall. And if you think reading only Muata Ashby books will give you a complete intellectual understanding of Kemetic yoga, you are wrong again.
    Let me give you a brief bio on myself. I consider myself to be a scholarly yoga practitioner. I started doing yoga in 1972. I have studied with several yogis over 70 years old. I have read hundreds of books dealing with “yoga” and guess what?, there other brands of yoga out there besides Hindu yoga. Did you notice that I didn’t say Indian yoga? Let me tell you why, India consists of many diverse ethnics group who inhabited India thousands of years before the Hindu arrived in India. The “equivalence” of yoga was practiced by some of these people. Their “yoga” comprise the “proto-yoga” of India. Meanwhile, other cultures, throughout the world, were using symbolism and practices “equivalent” with :yoga”.
    I should mention that I was introduced to Kemetic yoga in 1978. Muata Ashby was not around. So for 44 years I have been practicing, studying and researching something that you say don’t exist and have never existed. Note that I said studied and researched. That means more than looking at a few pictures and reading Muata Ashby.
    You say that you like the truth. Are you willing to search for it? I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Here is you your homework: Darsana is a Sanskrit term that has a lot to say about Hindu yoga philosophy. Look it up and define it to the highest degree. There is a Kemetic term that is “equivalent” to darsana. I am not going to tell you the word. Do the research and then tell the world why ‘yoga” did not exist in ancient Egypt.

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    1. I think we have to ask at what point are we talking about a general mind-body and liberating perspective, which as you mention like music is common in pretty much all cultures throughout time, and at what point are we going to seek to define a particular approach and practice as yoga. If we want to just think about a general mind-body connection and a seeking of liberation, sure, every culture has something like this. We as human beings seek to explain our world and liberate ourselves from it at every time in human history, and every religious and spiritual path in some sense is a product of this seeking. You can look at shamanistic practices in Latin America, for example, and see aspects of the practice that appear “yogic.” But I would argue that just because they address similar shared human concerns and may have arrived at a similar approach, these aren’t necessarily “yoga.” I think we at some point have to define what we mean by yoga, as coming out of a particular lineage of traditions (which as you say, are definitely plural) and having a particular approach to this seeking, based on the ideas of karma and liberation from karma, self-realization, and alleviation of suffering through various practices which can be defined through an eight limbed path (Patanjali) or if we wanted to look at other traditions may be defined in slightly other ways depending on the particular yogic lineage. But what these have in common is some sort of direct lineage or transmission (through texts, for example, rather than student/disciple lineage) where there is a traceable historical connection between these groups and traditions, a cultural diffusion or appropriation process that we can historically place. Of course there are multiple paths and traditions in yoga history. But ultimately, can we say every civilization throughout time was practicing yoga just because they had similar desires, similar practices of seeking, or a mind-body practice attempting to bring liberation? I just don’t think we can. I think perhaps it’s possible that ancient Egyptians were practicing some sort of mind-body connection, liberating philosophy that may have somehow been transmitted into the area we now associate with the origins of yoga. But do we have evidence of this? Absolutely not. It was so long ago and there is so little that was known about these cultures we just can’t clearly say that this was part of the direct lineage of yoga without expanding our definition of yoga so much it becomes less meaningful. Can we practice kemetic yoga still? Sure! But we need to recognize that what we are talking about at that point is likely not a direct lineage to yoga as we know and think of it today, and we are likely reading a similarity there that does exist, because as humans we are drawn to similar practices across time, but that it is not a direct heritage of the practice that we can trace historically back to today. Sure, we need more research on this, and I would love to see it, but I just don’t think with the little we can discover about ancient Egyptian cultures anthropologically that we will ever have the evidence we need to definitely prove this connection beyond a doubt. It was just too long ago, and there isn’t enough known concretely about that culture. What I’m trying to draw attention to in this post is the fact that yoga practice has evolved and changed historically, and very drastically so within the last 100 years. So any ideas we have of a direct lineage that can be traced thousands of years back, let alone all the way back to ancient Egypt, to something that we call “yoga” and practice as “yoga” today, is something of a misnomer and anachronistic reading of practices that likely were not called yoga at those times in history and might not have a direct connection to the cultural diffusion of what we would call yoga in anthropology or sociology, or historical research, today. It means that we shouldn’t read onto the past our own desires of lineage and meaning when we cannot be sure they existed. We have to recognize the possibility that they didn’t, and that we simply don’t have enough knowledge of that time of history and what those practices really looked like in practice (rather than the minimal surviving artifacts we have). We just can’t know, and to claim this direct connection is therefore problematic.


    2. “I have read hundreds of books dealing with “yoga” and guess what?, there other brands of yoga out there besides Hindu yoga. Did you notice that I didn’t say Indian yoga?”.

      What’s the difference? Both these words “Hindu and Indian” are colonial/deviated mispronunciations of the actual word “Sindhu”.

      “India consists of many diverse ethnics group who inhabited India thousands of years before the Hindu arrived in India.”

      This is interesting, I’d like to know from you, can you please provide me with a list of the many diverse ethnics group who inhabited the land of India before the so called Hindu please, and the names of the various practiced before the Ashtang Yoga?

      “thousands of years before the Hindu arrived in India.”

      I’d like to mention that the above is like saying “before the African born Africans arrived in Africa.
      Hindus cannot arrive in India if they are already Hindus. But this depends on your connotations and understanding of the word “Hindu” which goes back to the origin. Perhaps to you possibly the word “Hindu” is a religious terminology that allocates a person to a so called religion belief. It is not. The word “Hindu” is a mispronunciation of the word actual Sanskrit word “Sindhu” which is the name of the actual river Sindhu / Indu-s.
      It is the geographical location of the land which is call Sindhu/Bharata/India and named after that river. I am a Sindhu as i am from India. Also the neighboring Persian/Iranians called the people on the other side of he river “Indus” which was later on perpetuated by Alexander the not so great and other invaders. later it became “Hindus”, which is not a religious belief system but a geographical location of the land. Our philosophy, not religion, is Sanatana Dharma.

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      1. Who was your speculative history teacher? 😀 😀 😀

        Our philosophy, not religion, is Sanatana Dharma.That too is appropriating diverse beliefs and practices (even atheists like charvakas) existed in the “geographic location”, as you say, into a monolithic bhramanical philosophy. As another hindu, I would say, our philosophy is not only Sanatana dharma.


    3. What is the word? Please share the knowledge. Presuming the word exists, now what does it mean? What sources do you use for your study of Kemetic Yoga?


    4. I’ve done tons of research into so called Egyptian Yoga. There truly is no such thing. The smoking gun always leads to the fact that they keep resorting to use of the word Yoga. I’ve studied the source texts and the Metu Neter and can now consider myself a student of Ra Un Nefer Amen who states in his lecture on monotheism and polytheism that the Egyptians possessed no system of religion, which “reconnects” one to God, because they were never separated from God. This negates the need for Yoga and explains why it cannot be found. The disrespect toward the evolution of consciousness that occurred in the area of India and routinely dismissed by Kemetic “Yoga” teachers is shameful and sad.


  4. The biggest and most persistent myth about Yoga is that it is a 5,000 year old practice that started in India. That is a plethora of research that demonstrates that this assertion is based upon faulty reason and the “myth-making” of the modern Yoga industry. The advocates of Ashtanga Yoga insist that it is the oldest Yoga and the source of all Yoga as evidenced by an ancient text, yet this text cannot be found because “book worms” have devoured the book! Some have researched and written that the main Yoga styles that dominate modern Yoga practice like Iyengar and Ashtanga are primarily the offspring of the European gymnastics and YMCA based exercise movements that entered into India during the British colonial period. These critiques are accompanied with side by side photos juxtaposing identical postures done by 19th century white Europeans and 20th century Indian Yogis.

    Without debating the veracity or utility of such comparisons, I can assert that there are numerous examples of Yogic postures, energetic symbols and philosophical concepts that are readily available from the legitimate ancient African/Kemetic record that pre-date and are more sophisticated than the available Indian records.

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    1. Again, I mentioned this in another comment, we just can’t know that certain similarities with Ancient Egypt or ancient African cultures are a result of a direct transmission to what we call yoga today. First, yoga today has changed drastically over the last several hundred years, particularly the last 100. Is it possible that there were similar practices across multiple cultures? Sure. But is it that there was a direct transmission and diffusion of these practices to somehow become through a lineage based transmission yoga as we practice it today? Highly unlikely. If we want to think of yoga so broadly that we could call certain practices in every culture some type of yoga, yeah, I guess we could. But I think at that point we lose the power and practice of what yoga is. Every culture has movement practices that may look like postures today, because the human body can only do so many positions and we as humans like to move; every culture has philosophical concepts about liberation, and energy, and so on. But does this mean everything is yoga? No. I think we have to recognize that much of what we think of as “yoga” today is not directly connected to, and even if it is, is usually vastly different than ancient traditions, both in terms of Kemetic arguments but also Indian ones. Yoga as we think of it today is simply not that old, and a wealth of historical research shows this (and that historical research is much more than just juxtaposing pictures of postures side by side; there is so much evidence of various networks, historical writings, events, etc. that took place that indicate these changes occurred, arguing that Singleton for example just juxtaposes pictures to make an argument is a complete misreading of the historical research he did, which was very thorough in part because the time period he was researching was more recent and there are still many artifacts left over from these times, unlike more ancient periods where we are limited in what we know about those cultures and practices by the passage of time).

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    2. This is the most laughable thing I have ever read. Where is your proof that YMCA based exercises influenced Indian philosophy and movement? People stretch so far out of reality to try to erase Indian influence in the world. Keep stretching, but it won’t be called yoga. That is a Sanksrit word meaning to yoke the mind, that is to learn to control it, be one with it.


  5. Your logic is very flawed. You seem to think that someone needs to prove a direct link between Yoga in India to Yoga in Kemet in order for Yoga in Kemet to be real. Kemetic Yoga is not the same as Yoga in India. Meditation in Kemet was not the same as meditation in India. Each culture created it’s own ideas and practices based upon their distinctive cultural characteristics. That’s just like saying that the only culture in the world to create martial fighting arts in China because of the presence the Shaolin Temples teaching Kung Fu. That would be to deny not only the existence of martial arts in other Asian countries but just about every culture in the world. The Zulu of South Africa have their own system of martial arts. The Greeks and Romans had their own martial arts. You don’t have to demonstrate a direct link with China in order for those martial arts to be martial arts. That is the exact illogical argument you are making about Yoga. The word Yoga is Sanskrit, the idea of transformational spiritual ideas and practices that involve self cultivation are virtually universal. You can call them Yoga or mediation in India or something else in Kemet and another name among the Aztecs and Mayans, yet the result and effect are the same.


    1. I get this argument, but again, I think it depends on how we want to define yoga. Do we want to use this term so broadly? I think many people do today but I think it’s also important to recognize that we lose something of yoga in applying the term to historical practices that may not have been called “yoga” at those times in history. Are they all transformational practices involving self-realization? Sure, but again, the application of the word yoga is likely anachronistic when we apply it to a culture that ancient when these terms didn’t exist in the same way that we apply them now.

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  6. Based soley on part one, your article “Origins of Yoga” spends a quarter of it’s time attepting to disprove the origin rather than prove it. Big turnoff for any informational peice. Secondly, the word “yoga” was not used 40,000 years ago so unless you would prefer the practice to be remamed “Kemetic Poses and Philosophies For Mental Focus, Physical Awareness and Spiritual Enlightenment: First Ones Ever!” I think Kemetic Yoga is a sufficent name.


    1. Hi Taj, this series of posts is about myths regarding the origins of yoga. I stand by what I wrote. Obviously there are similar practices regarding the body, mind, and spirit in many cultures. The issue is whether we should call these “yoga” if they aren’t actually connected to the lineage, or if we can’t be sure they are connected to the lineage. I personally feel it is anachronistic and inaccurate, and potentially appropriative, to try and claim yoga is from Egypt. I think it’s fair to call it something like Kemetic Body Practice or Kemetic Spirituality or Kemetic Philosophy, but without more evidence that it is in fact connected to what we consider yoga, I don’t think it’s fair to use the term “yoga” as it can be misleading for people.

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  7. Interesting discussion on all sides. What I gather from all this is that “yoga” is now a very loaded word. If the Egyptians have the earliest writings on the subject its fair to say it has its origins there. I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It has its origins with the samurai. Did the samurai roll around on padded floors listening to hiphop trying to choke each other in pajamas… No. But that is where the concepts we use in combat originated. Being that it is Brazils form of the art you see heavy African and Portuguese movements in the forms. Yet there is no denying that the art came from Japan no matter how it got altered and new culture and movements became incorporated. From your research, “yoga” flexibility training that incorporates mindfulness and body awareness originated in Egypt. Could you deny that heavy metal is a product of the blues? So in the same fashion, from what you have given me. Modern day yoga practiced by millions of smoothie wielding yuppies in gentrified neighborhoods across the US are practicing an art that has its roots in Africa.

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  8. To say it’s different is like a weapon of mass communication . It did started in Egypt. In the temples.It’s the same . When Egypt fell , the people migrate to Indian with there practice. Which grew in Indian . Now the offsprings of these people and band from the temples to worship the religion that they brought to Indian, which is now known and Hindu.They live in the hills of Indian and are know as the Bondo people . They are classified as bad evil and wicked . What ever u call it today , and the shifts and changes it went through, it’s still the practice that originated from Egypt. With time and history it went thru some changes just like every other thing that was copy from Egypt aka Africa . It’s still the same practice. Do your his- story. The stop ur lies.


  9. Where do I start…..first of all, the first people to inhabit India were African. Those people were the Dravidians or the Indus Valley Civilization over 10,000 years ago. The came to that area that is now called Pakistan and they are a Nubian race. There were very distinct seals found from this civilization of people doing what we call yoga today. Look that up. Yoga comes from Shamanic practices that most of our indigenous ancestors had. All of our ancestors come from Africa. So so yoga.

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    1. I’m not disagreeing with you about the common ancestoral root of humanity. Did you read the post? The issue is that not all body practices are yoga, not to mention the fact that yoga is significantly more than poses. So the fact that there are some pictures depicting similar body movements from ancient Egypt doesn’t necessarily mean someone was practicing yoga in that culture as we have come to think about yoga in recent centuries. Just because a dance move looks like yoga does not necessarily make it yoga. Just because our ancestors practiced something, doesn’t mean we have those same practices today. Culture is social, meaning it changes constantly with time as we reinvent traditions. What this post is arguing is that there isn’t enough evidence to support the idea that yoga, as a philosophical and spiritual practice, is the same thing as practices from ancient Egypt. Was there cross pollination? Probably. We just don’t have enough data to draw a hard conclusion about the connection between these two cultures. It’s an anachronistic argument, and these claims are often made to address the needs of present populations more than because there is historical evidence to support the argument.

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  10. I don’t understand why you cannot consider prayer to be meditation, which I think I represents the logic of this entire paper, which George Yancy calls ‘the great white oracle voice’.


    1. Again, I think it’s anachronistic to assume that prayer is the same as meditation. Are they similar? Sure. Can they be used together? Yeah. But just because something is similar doesn’t make it the same practice. Casting spells in Wicca is similar to meditation too. But it’s not the same practice and doesn’t have the same cultural meanings. It’s about the semiotics of the thing, the meanings ascribed to the actions we engage in, which are often different and associated with different histories, populations, and uses over time.

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  11. hmmmm…very very interesting! I think you have given a well thought out and researched blog. Your response to comments has been consistent, dignified, non judgemental and calm, unlike some of the responses. Seem this topic is very evocative and cultivates often a need to almost violently defend ‘African or Kemetic Yoga’. I am a yoga teacher, I am of African heritage but can’t we all say that…..ok that was me being cheeky. Seriously I am really interested in your blog and would just like to thank you for taking the time.



    1. Thank you Ama! I’m glad you found the blog interesting. This particular topic has generated a lot more debate than I anticipated when I first wrote this blog several years ago now (wow, time flies!). It’s a wonderful entry point to discuss yogic history, and I’ve learned a lot over the years as people have engaged in convos about it… Good luck with things!


  12. Thank you for using the basic logical conclusion that one book making assumptions and personal interpretations of a couple pictures isn’t the same as equivalence. Just thank you for not being so crazy or ignorant. If Kemetic yoga was African, they should probably try to find the word that fits that ideology rather than a Sanskrit word (btw it would be better if you CAPS the S in Sanskrit…). Among other things, that’s one of the biggest irritations about this whole BS. People are really ready to believe anything. Sure, we all originated from Africa, but to imply our ancestors are the exact same as us or any ancient practices that look exactly like another culture’s is ridiculous. Yoga is, has always been, and always will be Hindu. It’s just how it is, and there is a plethora of more info on this than any BS on “kemetic” stuff. Maybe if people had more than a book by some fool, I’d take them seriously, but considering I can’t find anything other than tin foil hat opinions, I’d advise people stop being so ignorant and deal with the fact that Yoga isn’t anybody’s other than Hindus…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My goal is not to convince you or anyone else in regards to the origination of yoga or any other experiences that humanity as a collective have engaged in throughout the ages. That would be like debating the origin of dance or making music which are activities that are universally expressed. However, dance and music can express cultural uniqueness. I am sure that you can distinguish between dancing and non-dancing and music and noise. Debate if you want but there is an universal goal associated with dancing or making music. This perspective allies to yoga too. The goal of yoga is universal.

      You should define for yourself what makes the activity that is designated yoga be excluded from the “spiritual” calisthenics of other cultures and what makes yoga the exclusive domain of one group of people. It is erroneous to make the claim asserting the Hindu origination of yoga. In fact, Jawaharlal Nehru states in his book, “Glimpses of World History”, that the Indian Hindu culture is greatly influenced by an older Indian civilization called the Dravidian. Evidence of yogic practices have been found in Dravidian excavations of sites such Mohenjo Daro. Hence, there is no Hindu origination of Yoga. Hindu yoga is a response to a set Dravidian activities that is collectively recognized as yoga that addressed an universal human need to transcend.

      Trying to ascertain who did what first is a effort of futility without a correct chronology. Incidentally, Nehru’s book does have chronology that does include Ancient Egypt (Kemet) and the Dravidian culture. It appears that ancient Egyptian culture was well established before the Dravidian culture. Some people will use this fact to claim that Kemetic yoga is older that Dravidian yoga. I don’t because I don’t see a gain. But I will say this: the first people on the planet was the first dancers, music makers, talkers and yoga practitioners.
      So is Toaist yoga yoga? Yes, but it looks different that Hindu yoga. Is Kemetic Yoga yoga? Yes,and it has unique features too. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it is a duck. But Bob Dylan states it best in his song “Blowing in the Wind” when he asks “how times must a man look up before he can see the sky?.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. I am a Black woman and I know that the culture of black people is hijacked by everybody. I say that to say, what ever form it was, those pictures were yoga positions. It might not be the same exact thing as modern yoga, but A PICTURE SPEAKS A THOUSAND WORDS, the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just as your culture is attacked by everyone, so is Indian culture. They are not the same positions, but that is not even the point of yoga. Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “to yoke the mind,” as in control and be one with it. It is more a philosophical practice guided by bodily movements than just an exercise. It is a way of life. You cannot determine these things from a picture of someone stretching. While Egyptians certainly trained themselves physically, that does not mean it is the same thing as yoga, a mindful practice that encompasses so many other areas of life than physicality.


  14. Great article. I cannot wait until Millenia’s grow out of this having to define everything stage. I am sure there are a plethora of reasons why. But, I am older than you and risk that horrible attribute that people of a certain age hold for themselves; talking from age and/or wisdom. The labeling gets tedious and divides people more than brings them together. But, I get it. It’s part of being young. We feel the need. Perhaps, it helps us understand life better. But in reality…it does little. Does it really matter where Yoga came from? Or is it more important that yoga does what the truth of Yoga does; Yokes you to the Divine. I am not sure that most people understand this because if they did they would certainly keep their mouths and their minds shut once the class was over. I have yet to find a yoga studio like that.

    This is not the reason I wrote. I have been in the healing/spiritual ‘profession’ for 30 years as of last year. As you speak of yoga and it’s true origins; trying to find the truth, I would imagine…as if that could ever happen….I write because I want to challenge your use of Love, Light….and. I take no umbrage with the word Love. It is a lovely word and implies much for just about anyone. My objection is to the word Light. People who use it in this fashion do not understand what is means. It is a new age vernacular and really misplaced. It especially does not belong, if you knew, at the end of a salutation.

    Love is self explanatory, maybe. Love, in this context, is used (hopefully) to be more like Namaste than the human side of ‘I love you’. Humans do very poorly when it comes to ‘real’ love. Love at the end of a letter, when coupled with Light….has everything to do with the Love of the Divine being carried on Light. But it has been co-opted by the new age movement, which also co-opted yoga and made it into something ‘else’.

    Yoga in it’s truest form, has no form. Yoga, in it’s truest form, was about breathing and that breath activating the posture’s. The postures came from somewhere, something had to impulse them to come through. Breath was the impulse for that. I don’t know if it was Patanjai or someone else who brought breath work to the people for relaxation and enlightement…because you just can’t get there, enlightenment, by simply moving the body. You need the breath. GOD moves on breath/air and in LIGHT.

    The practice of a variety of breathing excersises produced the movements. After some time, through the art of observation, the movements became obvious and the people being observed were all doing the same movement. They were oganic. They were recorded and became the Asanas.

    As in the verbiage of Love and Light…..and how it was used here, and the topic of the origins of yoga I think this bit of information is very important. When I read or hear someone say Love, Light I cringe because I know that they do not understand the true meaning of the words, especially when brought together. Similar to the now constant abuse of the word Blessed. When one is Blessed they fall to the ground in tremors, practically. That is what is means to be blessed. It has nothing to do with you, your new car, your new house, your new boyfriend, etc, etc, etc. Being Blessed is beyond our comprehension as is the combination of Love & Light. The love of GOD is carried on Light and Breath. When you really get that you will no longer put it at the end of an email. It is much to sacred for that mundane usage.



    1. Hi Riaswift, I appreciate your thoughtful response! Yes, to be honest, I used to use this phrase years ago when I first started writing blogs (of which this was one of the first I wrote). I’ve since moved away from that phrase for some of the very reasons you have suggested… but I also think it’s interested to leave my old work up as is to illustrate the evolution of my own thinking and positionality. Much appreciated, good luck with everything!


    2. I agree with everything you said, except that we do need to know where yoga comes from (India) so that we can keep it true to its nature. As you said, it’s become co-opted and made into something it’s not, which leads people astray rather than helping them truly becoming one with the Universe. In order to bring it back to its true forms so that people can truly learn and in order to prevent the meaning from becoming lost again, we must remember where it comes from, where it is still widely practiced in an authentic way and not so commercialized and diluted.


    3. Riaswift, I agree with everything you said, except that we do need to know where yoga comes from (India) so that we can keep it true to its nature. As you said, it’s become co-opted and made into something it’s not, which leads people astray rather than helping them truly becoming one with the Universe. In order to bring it back to its true forms so that people can truly learn and in order to prevent the meaning from becoming lost again, we must remember where it comes from, where it is still widely practiced in an authentic way and not so commercialized and diluted.


  15. Since you are so knowledgeable about what Kemetic Yoga isn’t ( by the way have you even been to Egypt?) would you enlighten us as to what function it served in Egypt, and you may see only “white women” performing yoga in your small bubble, but in the East it is widely practiced, you have such a huge opinion about what yoga is perhaps you should spend more time practicing than preaching?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The article is about whether or not there is historical evidence that yoga has roots in ancient Egypt, and many of the other comments on this article help clarify that it’s not arguing kemetic yoga doesn’t exist, but rather that we lack the historical documentation to say with certainty one way or the other if the roots of yoga are in the Egyptian civilization. Could it be the case? Sure. But we’ll never really know for sure unless we can find a way to travel through time. There are many knowledge practices across many cultures that share similar traits with yoga, this does not necessarily mean that they are all yoga but rather than many cultures have pursued similar inquisitive practices that engage the body and mind in parallel ways.


  16. Yoga startet in Egypt ! Me as an doctor in science for ancient wisdom know that . Many research has been done on that topic .
    thanks for the try however .


  17. All Things Yoga, thank you for defending the Truth. If I were not an Indian or a Hindu, I would still want people to properly attribute yoga to its origins. It is increasingly frustrating that people seem to see the value in yoga, but so much so that they want to claim it for themselves. If they truly were able to use yoga and attain Enlightenment, then that would have to be okay with me. I would set my ego aside. But they dilute the practices and cherry pick what they like and implement other shortcuts (such as commercialized American “yoga” by New-Agers who have made it into a completely fitness-only routine). It takes away the true meaning, and those who newly have access to this system of thought end up being led astray. I wanted to mention, however, that it is true that yoga is an ancient practice. There are mentions of the Sanskrit word in texts as far back as you mentioned but quickly downplayed. So just wanted to mention that there is research about this (thorough and unbiased carbon-dating).


  18. I was hoping to gain insight about the origins of yoga but I must say I am disappointed after reading this. As someone who is African American, I am very interested about true history and not the white washed BS. This article seemed only to discredit all of the hieroglyphics and provide a bunch of useless information. I would like to see an article that talks about the origins, rather than one that aims to demean any place/theory that is not.


    1. It blows me away that you are actually studying and writing on this subject. I’m truly blown away by your ignorance. At the same time I am not surprised. The “Western Mind” always tries to undermine culture and history that is beyond their limited perception and spiritual maturity.

      The “Western Mind” consistently insults world history and the evidence that our ancestral races have left behind. You are just a product of what you are. I do not blame you for your limitations. It’s a reflection of where you are on your journey. Please continue practicing. Please go deeper in your physical practice and development of meditation. It will help you as you navigate this powerful inquiry.

      You have all of these resources and this is the argument you have come up with? What are you practicing? What are you meditating on? Why is it so hard for the European Mind to draw connections between cultures, land masses and people. Have you traveled to Egypt and India?

      Why is it so difficult for the Modern European Mind to understand how ideas and philosophies traveled and were shared? Your limited opinion / research / argument is common and expected.

      For you it is an argument of Black Americans hijacking YOGA and claiming it came from Africa. It is obvious that Egypt definitely had a Yoga System, Hathor means the balance of Sun and Moon. Hathor is an Egyptian Goddess and body of People. Hatha means the balance of Sun and Moon energy. There are so many correlations between Khemetic Yoga and Modern Yoga. It is still blowing my mind that you are doing research and this is what you’ve come up with as your argument.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Is there any evidence that supports that the people in India were the only people who did stretching, breath work, internal contemplation, Mantras etc?

    There are other cultures who had this same type of experience. Did they call is Yoga? No, because we know that the word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit language. And we also know that other people from around the world expressed themselves through the language that connects to their way of living and world view.

    If we study the culture and spiritual systems of West Africa we see a connection between the people from Ancient Egypt. Ex: Yoruba, Ashanti tribe, The Dogons etc. These different tribes talked about their migration from Kemet to West Africa after the invasions. They also talked about the preservation of the culture through initiation, music, dance, story, and ritual. This is how we can see the living Kemetic culture in West Africa when studying west African tribes.

    Now when we study the Dogon tribe we see they talked about the Sirius star system, this star system has a connection to Kemet(Egypt). How did they get this information? Why did they say they came from the Nile Valley? And how come we can see the cultural and spiritual connection?

    The Dogons also taught a concept called KA’AT Ibi (traditional meditation). KA’AT Ibi embodies movements, breathe work, contemplation, Ancestral veneration, words of power called Hekau etc. Ka’at Ibi means Thinking or assessing the mind and heart. The daily activities include breathing and stretching poses and internal exercises that strengthen the senses. The goal is to learn how to fit and find balance within the ancestral realm and the divine world. KA’AT Ibi comes from the Medu Neter (Language of the Gods) what we know as the Egyptian Hieroglyph.

    Researcher and author Laird Scranton makes connections between the Dogons and Eygpt. Also, check out the books “The Sirius Mystery” and “The science of the Dogon” to get a deeper connection between the people and their relationship with the Ancient Egyptian Culture.

    For the record, I had the blessing to be apart of the Dogon initiatic platform so I am speaking from, the inside out. This is key because when we are introduced to the internal workings of the culture and spiritual system, you have a perspective that observes the Dogons for who they are and how they are connected and have preserved the Kemetic Legacy/culture including KA’AT IBI which can be linked to “YOGA”. Was it the exact same? Of course not… Did it aid in reaching enlightenment and a deeper connection to our environment including the unseen forces that govern us? Yes!!!


  20. I just came across this article, so I am late to the conversation.

    I read the claims, and while I am open to a new POV, I have yet to see any evidence showing that yoga originated in Africa. Can someone help out with giving me some evidence?

    Stating that yoga postures are on the hieroglyphs does not immediately mean yoga originated in Africa. Hieroglyphs such as those only show similarity, not origin. I am interested to know the evidence behind the claim?

    To answer your question – is this a bad thing?
    Yes. Because taking the teachings of that originated somewhere else, by someone else, and claiming to be yours is plagiarism if not supported with sufficient evidence.


    1. Can you provide evidence to show that the Ancient Egyptian didn’t practice a form of internal work that dealt with; breath work, visualization, mantras, chants etc? Or are you saying out of all the civilization around the world india was the only people moving and breathing with the intent to experience different forms of consciousness?


      1. Hi Sobek, your questions relate to some earlier comments in this thread. I agree that it’s impossible to rule out possibilities that ancient Egyptians practiced similar practices to those in yoga. Many civilizations have mind-body traditions and practices that have similarities and overlaps with what we think of as yoga today. But I don’t think we’ll ever know concretely whether there are direct links and connections between ancient Egypt and the historical evidences we have for the origins of yoga as we know it today. Is it possible there were? Sure. But we just lack the amount of evidence needed to prove it, and without that, I think we should be wary of implying there are firm connections between these various types of practices, it’s possible they also developed independently.


  21. I think it’s safe to say that this article is based on someones opinions and not fact.. the fact is we don’t actually know… if we are saying yoga began in India based on manuscript and the yoga sutras, which only included one asana.. then why not believe that the people of Kemit had a spiritual practice and philosophy that influenced many other practices that followed.


  22. I agree but point to the fact the yoga philosophy and Ancient Egyptian religion are polar opposites. Indian yoga, “you are not the body nor the mind” ancient Egypt, “you are the body, let’s mummify it.” India Yoga, “do not get attached to wealth” ancient Egypt, “pack it up, I can take all my belongings with me to the after life.” India Yoga, “karma not sin” ancient Egypt “sinful heat gets fed to the crocodile monster!” India Yoga, “you have many lifetimes” ancient Egyptians, “you have one chance, don’t screw it up!” When you look at just a few key differences, you see how ancient Egypt influenced Christianity. I have great respect for the accomplishment of ancient Egypt, but yoga and it’s philosophy was not one of them.


    1. I think thats quite a simplistic comparison to make. To this day we still don’t understand many of the Ancient Kemetic spiritual concepts and their wisdom on death, burial and the afterlife. Even scholars such as Budge and Massey have admitted this. One theory postulated is that mummification took place to preserve the body on this plain and prevent the sould from reincarnating. Earth was considered to be Amenta / hell so although reincarnation was understood it was not the end goal. As I understand the knowledge has been adopted within Hinduism differently – Hinduism advocates reincarnation on this plain and so the body is left to rot / decay as soon as possible. Also if the Ancient Kemites understood the forces of natural elements such as gold and their achemical properties it may account for why these items were treasured – and not because of greed.

      Just because the practices in Ancient Egypt and India appear to be different doesn’t mean they don’t originate from the same source of wisdom and higher spiritual knowledge. Knowledge often becomes corrupted and distrorted over time and the true meaning lost. To make matters worse we often view concepts from a westernised, modern framework of reality/logic and use this to determine what is real, what is not or how much evidence we need to provide to show that the concept of yoga started in Kemet.

      The Kemetic equivalent for the word yoga by the way is Smai Tawi. And the Ankh has similar connotations as the meaning of the word yoga – to yoke or link back.


  23. We study Egyptian Healing Rods- VITIC RODS RU
    They are knowlage of Caucasian and Egyptian Yoga.
    This is very interesting – does Kemetic Yoga use this Rods in practice?
    Do You have some information about it?


  24. Is there any written evidence of Yoga originating in Egypt? Has anyone found ancient books or manuscripts detailing the many positions, benefits and rules of such a complex practice like Yoga? Have they been able to accurately date those texts?
    Or do we just use a few paintings on a wall to define the origins of a complex ancient practice?
    If one searches for the origins of Yoga in Egypt, one may find a copy of the Yoga Sutras or the Katha Upanishad buried somewhere deep inside some of the many pyramids in that vast desert.


    1. Great questions, and as far as I know there isn’t textual evidence connecting yogic practices clearly to ancient Egypt. I agree there might still be some sort of evidence we haven’t yet discovered, and just because there isn’t historical documentation enough to make a clear case doesn’t mean that it never happened, it’s just that we don’t have proof and can’t say either way with certainty.


  25. Yet, we still want cultivate the same energy through these different practices you mention. So, no matter the word you place on these practices the energy is the same.


  26. Interesting article, Amara, but it lacks few very critical evidences which supports the claims of Yoga’s origins in Egypt.

    First, there isn’t any “solid” textual or archaeological proofs that are cited on your sourced materials from Muata Ashby. I’ve briefly looked into the materials of Ashby, however, they didn’t provide any actual evidences on their materials, except some few “graphics” looking pictures and some obscure and ambiguous proofs. Again, one can easily void the evidences produced by Muata because they are mostly baseless.

    Since we don’t have any solid academically recognized evidences, your strong assertion of “Yoga does not originate in India but in Egypt” is baseless. If you’re making such assertions, you should have solid evidences that support our arguments on this matter.

    Secondly, there is serious differences between that they claim “Egypt Yoga” and the Indian Yoga in philosophies they claim, like mentioned by other comment on this topic. And the so called “Egyptian” version is not only baseless, but also very primitive in nature. Compilation of Yoga is not just Patanjali, in fact, in ancient India, there are numerous specializations of Yoga which at one point becomes unmanageable since one has to goes through so many complexities to truly master a single Yoga sutra so he made a compilation of all the types at his time. And there is also Shiva Sutra, which came directly from the mouth of Shiva and others. In the face of these solid evidences in Hinduism and ancient India, the claims made by Dr. Muata Ashby just become complete void and baseless.

    So, you will have to do you research again in “true origins of Yoga” to really understand where Yoga originated from because the arguments you made from citing those materials are baseless, since the materials themselves are complete void and unattested.


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