Patrick McCartney
4 min readDec 16, 2023


Patrick McCartney

The not so ancient origins of Egyptian Yoga

In the past few years, the merging of yoga and social justice activism has intensified. Social justice inspired yoga can be understood as novel forms of X + Yoga hybrids, which seek distinction in a hyper-saturated market. This evolves the niche market segment of social justice Yoga. One poignant irony is the attribution of colonially constructed narratives used to decolonize Yoga. In her book, Honor Yoga’s Roots, Barkataki explains how harm apparently emerges in one’s yoga practice, from not correctly doing yoga. The root cause is said to arise from ignorance and unintentional disrespect.

Does this mean that intentional actions — based on considered opinion and knowledge, which respectfully, and rightfully have the option to disagree — cause similar harm?

The 19th century Romantic sentiments of Orientalists form the articles of faith driving Yoga’s theology. Sood’s third tenet states, that ‘A decolonized yoga honors the Indigenous and heterogeneous cultures around the globe, including in ancient African civilizations, that have contributed to yoga’s evolution and preservation.’ While the first part is seemingly innocuous, it is the second part, regarding honouring ancient African civilizations for their contribution to Yoga’s evolution and preservation, which is dissonant.

This is an ironic attempt to legitimize the ahistorical claims that Yoga’s true origins are found in ancient papyrus manuscripts from Egypt. Does this not cause harm to the host culture? Perceived legitimacy for this ancient Yogic system is based on peculiar interpretations of the Edwin Smyth Papyrus, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the mysteries of Amenta. These predate the 3000-year-old Rigveda, the first text to mention ‘Yoga,’ which, in its original context, means ‘martial action.’

However, Egyptologists do not support such truth claims about ancient Egypt and Yoga. This niche wellness lifestyle brand has several offshoots. Though it originated in Chicago during the 1970s and is framed as an ancient healing treatment built on an array of African American esotericism offering transformative self-deification.

From a wellness tourism perspective, the unabashedly culturally appropriating, Ra Sekhi Kemetic Reiki, promotes its wellness pilgrimage to Kemet (ancient Egypt), as a way to join a ‘Spiritual Journey that promotes Health, Wellness, Culture, & Empowerment.’ While there are multiple strains of Egyptian Yoga, the Center for Ma’at explains, that:

The Ma’at Institute for Holistic Education is an initiative of the Center for the Restoration of Ma’at. The Institute provides education on ancient esoteric wisdom […]. Have you ever felt that modern society, with all its technological advances, has lost something? Left its soul far behind in a distant past? Drawing primarily from Ancient Egypt and other Ancient African traditions, the Ma’at Institute brings this knowledge back into modern practice. Ma’at Institute Scholars will learn to apply these key lessons in their lives.

The perceived ancient land of the Kemetic people is apparently located at the sacred crossroads of Yoga’s African roots, which incorporates ideas of sacred sexuality into an ancient Egyptian Tantric Yoga. While recolonising the past, thereby reducing the dynamic complexities of African culture to a static monolith, KPIs for unity might be met. Though, diversity quotas might be a different matter. One universal, across Yogaland, is the offering of axiomatic instructions about morality and how best to live. These are justified as self-evident and unquestionable. They are perceived as potent instruments for dismantling racism — both on and off the mat.

Egyptian Yoga continues the construction of an invented Afrocentric tradition. Its direct origins are located in George James’s book, Stolen Legacy (1954). According to Frederik Gregorius, James’s ideas borrow heavily from earlier work published on ancient mysteries and freemasonry. Ironically, much of what informs the invention of this Egyptian Yoga tradition begins in the work of the Theosophical Society’s early promoters, like Norman de Clifford (1908), Charles Vail (1909), and Helena Blavatsky (1888).

The Theosophical Society branded itself as offering power and mystery. However, it failed to publicly demonstrate yogic powers. Initial public interest declined, once the public realized the claims were baseless. In a rebranding attempt, the Theosophical Society turned to imagining a real and pure Yoga.

This is when a crossover between Egypt + Yoga appears to have first occurred. The late 19th century is the temporal origin of Kemetic Yoga, not 7000 BCE.

Gillian McCann explains how the Theosophical Periodicals published between 1879–1900 provide emergent representations of the East. This is nuanced by Hugh Urban’s work on secret societies. In turn, Patrick Bowen’s specific exploration of ‘The Real Pure Yog,’ as it emerged in the early Theosophical Society’s merger with the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, show the Orientalist kernels continuing to feed the Romantic mood of global Yoga’s imaginative consumption. Anya Foxen discusses Harmonialism and New Thought across the 19th/20th centuries, explaining how this period was a popular time for experimenting with Western esotericism and the ‘mystery cults’ of Egypt. By the 1910s, this led to ‘Hindu-Egyptian dances’ becoming emblematic of the height of cosmopolitan civilization and feminine sensibility.

Mark Bevir explains how theosophy fed into the cultural nationalist tradition longing to revive an idealized India. These appeals to purity gained significant traction among Hindu nationalists, like, L.G.D. Tilak (1903). Tilak published several books reconstructing a golden age of Hinduism. A notable proposition claims the location of the ancient Aryan homeland is in the Arctic Circle. At an extreme, it is a similar essentialism/exceptionalism — as Hindu nationalism — that can be found expressed under many YouTube videos related to Egyptian/Kemetic Yoga. This may include calls to establish a Wakanda-like ethno-state, not too dissimilar to ideas of a Hindu nation and world in which everyone is Hindu, vegetarian, and speaks a revived, yet supposedly ‘pure,’ Sanskrit. In contrast, the global Kemetic ethno-state would have us all be vegans who speak the revived ancient language of Kemet. It would seem this is what it means to #LiveLikeAKemeticYogi.