MysticMag has the absolute pleasure of chatting with Yirser Ra Hotep, a seasoned Yoga master and the creator of the YogaSkills Method. As the most senior Kemetic Yoga instructor in the U.S., he has 45+ years of experience. Yirser played a key role in the original research of Kemetic Yoga in the 1970s and has certified over 5000 Kemetic Yoga instructors worldwide. With advanced degrees in Social Service Administration and Inner City Studies, he is also a professor at DePaul University. Yirser leads impactful research projects, including one at Cook County Jail. Beyond Yoga, he pioneered Internal Self Regulation (ISR) for children and received recognition from Easter Seals in 2004 for his YogaSkills for Kids program. His work has been featured in various publications and media outlets, reflecting his commitment to holistic well-being and cultural awareness.
With over 49 years of experience practicing and teaching Kemetic Yoga, you are considered the most senior instructor of Kemetic Yoga in the United States. Could you share some insights into the origins and principles of Kemetic Yoga and how it differs from other forms of yoga?
I practice Kemetic yoga, which traces its roots to ancient Egypt. Before delving into the details, it’s essential to understand that what we commonly refer to as Egypt has only been named so since the end of the Kemetic civilization. The Greeks arrived in a region of Africa known as Kemet, and it was they who later named it Egypt. Throughout its 5000-year history, Kemet was only called Egypt for the last 300 years of its existence. It’s crucial to recognize it as an African civilization that interacted with various cultures, including the Greeks and Romans, who sought to learn from Kemet in areas like agriculture, architecture, engineering, mathematics, and medicine.
Kemet developed a comprehensive system of yoga and meditation alongside other physical and cultural practices, such as martial arts, dance, music, massage therapy, reflexology, and other holistic health systems. When examining the temple walls in ancient Kemet, we find evidence of yoga both in the depicted body positions and the symbols used. Interestingly, the people of Kemet traveled extensively, even reaching places we now call India, creating a connection between ancient Egypt/Kemet and India.
Symbols associated with yoga, like the halo in Christian art, find their origins in Kemet. The crown chakra, depicted as a sun disc called an Aten on the head, signifies enlightenment achieved through the practice of yoga. This symbol was prevalent in Kemet and was not called a chakra or halo but referred to as an Aten symbolizing the rising sun and higher consciousness.
Certain individuals, particularly divinities, were represented with a snake symbol on their forehead, denoting the opening of the third eye or Ajna chakra in the middle of the forehead. This symbolism is consistent with the universal concept of energy in yoga, referenced as “kundalini” or Wadjet in Kemet, depicted as a snake. Even the medical caduceus, a symbol used in modern medicine, originated from the ancient Kemetic temples.
I have been practicing yoga in Chicago for about 50 years, and a significant moment was witnessing an exhibit of artifacts from King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1976. We observed a chair featuring a unique yoga posture, indicating the presence of yoga in ancient Kemet. The ancient Kemetic understanding of the human body involved multiple layers of the self, such as Ka, Ba, Khu Akhu, Ren, etc, which are aspects of our being like body, mind, spirit, soul, consciousness, energy body, similar to concepts in modern metaphysics and Eastern medicine.
In conclusion, Kemetic yoga, is closely aligned with the original form of yoga, emphasizes slow, deliberate movements and incorporates around 26 geometric postures aimed at aligning and maintaining the body’s natural healthy state.
You’ve not only developed Kemetic Yoga but also trained and certified over 10,000 Kemetic Yoga instructors around the world. What motivated you to establish the YogaSkills School of Kemetic Yoga, and what impact has this had on the global yoga community?
Absolutely, your perspective is clear. The deliberate distortion of historical narratives and the appropriation of language have been tools used to undermine and control communities, particularly those of African descent. The separation of Egypt from the African continent on maps and the appropriation of terms like Egyptology with Greek names perpetuate a narrative that seeks to deny the rich history, culture, and achievements of African civilizations. This tactic, rooted in racism, aims to create divisions and hierarchies among people. It’s crucial to challenge and dismantle these false narratives to reclaim and celebrate the true history and contributions of oppressed communities worldwide.
Your journey and work extend beyond yoga, including your involvement in research projects and education initiatives. Can you tell us more about your research on the effects of Yoga and Meditation, particularly on inmates at Cook County Jail in Chicago, and what you’ve learned from these studies?
I was involved in a research study focused on implementing a yoga program in prisons. It all started when a man initiated a yoga program in a California prison, emphasizing its benefits for inmates through yoga and meditation. As a result, there was interest in replicating this program in Chicago. This particular individual recommended me, and I, took on the task.
Our research project involved collaboration with other scholars. My role was to teach meditation and yoga, while others focused on statistical analysis and research design. Leveraging my background with a master’s in social work, we carefully selected individuals for a randomized study to ensure an unbiased representative sample.
The study included a control group and another group receiving a different form of intervention. Our goal was to measure recidivism rates (returning to jail) and the relapse rates into drug and alcohol use. We aimed to compare the outcomes of those who participated in the yoga program to those receiving an alternative intervention, which involved a reading program.
The findings were significant. Men in the Cook County Jail, who participated in the yoga and meditation program, demonstrated a reduced rate of recidivism. Moreover, there was a notable decrease in relapse rates into drugs and alcohol compared to individuals who did not receive any intervention or received other forms of treatment. Importantly, our intervention proved to be more effective in reducing these indicators than other interventions applied to similar populations.
Your academic background includes degrees in social service administration, inner-city studies, and political science. How has your education and experience in these fields informed your approach to teaching yoga and the holistic development of individuals?
My approach to everything is rooted in a historical, political, social and cultural perspective. I always consider how we can utilize holistic health and wellness practices to enhance our community and contribute to the improvement of society as a whole. The belief is that bettering our community has a ripple effect, positively influencing the world and the country we live in — essentially, bettering everything around us.
Currently, my goal, which has persisted for the past 15 to 20 years, is to cultivate new teachers who can spread the teachings of Kemetic yoga worldwide. It’s not about developing teachers solely for financial gains, although financial stability is important. Many of these teachers do well financially, but the overarching objective is to have a transformative impact on society.
The way we perceive Kemetic yoga goes beyond physical exercise; it’s a holistic practice. Personally, my background in political science and a master’s in social services administration with a focus on inner-city studies informs how I approach my work. Whether I’m engaged in social work, working with individuals and families, or directing an agency providing services, I adopt a holistic perspective. This involves integrating yoga, social/cultural awareness, and holistic lifestyle to effect permanent internal change.
In my early days as a substance abuse counselor, my understanding of the body and mind through yoga allowed me to bring about significant changes in a program I worked with. Implementing yoga, dietary adjustments, and lifestyle changes resulted in a notable shift in our agency’s success rates, reducing relapses into alcohol and drug use among participants.
My journey, which began with a childhood interest in history and politics, evolved into active involvement in political activism during college. From participating in protests apartheid in South Africa to my ongoing work in social services, it has always been a combination of social activism, social consciousness, and cultural awareness. This stems from a deep-rooted belief in the necessity for cultural regeneration within my community. It’s been an interesting life journey, to say the least.
Kemetic Yoga is deeply rooted in the ancient Egyptian civilization and culture. How do the philosophic principles of Kemetic Yoga promote not only physical well-being but also mental clarity, self-empowerment, and the ability to control one’s thoughts and behaviors in everyday life?
Kemetic Yoga is based on an African/Kemetic philosophical approach and worldview called Ma’at. Ma’at is the lens through which we view the world. It denotes that there is a natural order to the universe that was ordained through the divine principles of creation. Ma’at means order, harmony, balance, justice, reciprocity and truth. It means that these principles are at the foundation of the workings of the universe and that each person should live life reflecting these principles. Our individual behavior, social and cultural mores, scientific methodology and all ways of interacting with nature should reflect Ma’at. Each king of Kemet took a sacred vow to practice and uphold Ma’at or “The Way of Ma’at” at all times and to defend the land against not only foreign military attack but also cultural influences that lowered our standards of civilized behavior. In essence Kemetic Yoga seeks that each individual lives life in tuned with universal harmony, balance and recognize the natural order of existence. This doesn’t mean restricting behavior or consciousness but expanding it to help us achieve our higher purpose.
If you would like to find out more about Yirser Ra Hotep, visit https://kemeticyogaskills.com/