The Power of Ancient Terms in Yoga

June 1, 2018

Imhotep (why do I say this first?). You may have noticed that Kemetic Yoga instructors use different terms for concepts or deities (nTr) than the more common terms used to describe aspects of Egyptian philosophy or culture. For example, most people have heard of Isis, Osiris, and Horus as the first documented “trinity.” However, as part of the decolonization of yoga and our minds, we call this trinity “Aset, Ausar, and Heru,” respectively. Using these terms and others like Kemet instead of saying “ancient Egypt” is not a small detail to us. The Greeks and other invaders who documented and then later stole and often plagiarized Kemetic knowledge used their own terms for the concepts without preserving the original, true terms. 


This is why we name our many poses and sequences with Kemetic terms. What is known in Indian yoga as “Bhujangasana” (Cobra), is Wadget in Kemetic terms. What is known as "adhumukasavasana" (downward dog), we call Merkut pose (Kemetic term for pyramid). This is not just an exercise in vocabulary. Every time we resist the temptation to just say what the rest of the yoga world uses, we activate the ancient energy. This is in no way a disrespect to Sanskrit or Indian yoga. It is a choice to engage in the older philosophy. It is a choice to connect with an African system. Saying names and words that are authentic to the ancient culture is respectful and carries power. Sound holds vibrations that change our connection understanding and the meaning of a object, posture, or concept. 

Think about the importance of names, especially for Black people in the U.S. or other places of the African Diaspora where names were stolen. In some ways the unique African American names we encounter are an attempt to reclaim our energy. The sounds of those names matter. Reclamation of the African origins and influences of yoga includes using original terms. 


The medu neter (mdw ntr = divine speech; hieroglyphs) is a complex, very intricate language. There is useful discussion happening about the nuances of meanings and pronunciation of words. For example, hotep (peace), could also be hetep because the ancients only documented the sounds "htp." For the purposes of connecting to the ancient system, it is most important, in my opinion, that we TRY to use the Kemetic terms to the best of our knowledge. Each attempt is in some ways an offering to our ancestors. It certainly feels more authentic to use the approximation of pronunciation (with full awareness that it could be wrong) than using Greek words that move us further away from the source or Sanskrit words that are connected to a different cultural context than the one that Kemetic Yoga practitioners are trying to connect to. 


Language is culture. Connecting to the ancient language is a portal to our ancestors and should not be taken lightly. Hotep. 




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