Imhotep (why do I say this?). Most people associate ancient Indian philosophy with yoga. However, we have a lot of evidence that the physical and spiritual practices in Kemet (ancient Egypt) predate and perhaps even laid the foundation for the Indian traditions. As one example, Ma’at is a central aspect of Kemetic philosophy and spirituality. It is discussed in texts as a concept and is also one of the most frequently depicted nTr (deity). Scholars discuss the 42 laws of Maat, which were very likely a precursor to the 10 Commandments. For the purposes of this post, I prefer to focus on the general principles. Considering the general or more overarching principles of
Maat allows us to think about all situations in our personal and professional lives. It facilitates more independence in our thinking than statements that are as specific as, for example, “I have not stolen food.” The principle and nTr Maat represent the concepts of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice. How do we cultivate those principles with yoga? Here are some ideas:
Practicing the physical postures in yoga restores balance, order, and harmony to the biological and physiological processes in our bodies. For example, most people with sitting or desk jobs have created tension in the back, neck and shoulders. Experiencing pain and tightness in these areas is a form of imbalance, and at its worst a dis-order. Experiencing tension and pain in our bodies can also have emotional consequences and habituation to pain or tightness leaves us not even noticing the pain we tolerate. We disconnect from our bodies and ourselves to cope, so then there is no way to know this imbalance is occurring. Heart opening yoga postures (like backward bends ) and gentle twists (like the Goddess Pose/Pose of Maat) restore the balance when practiced consistently and the dis-order causing habits are limited.
A crucial aspect of yoga is the breath. We breathe to increase self awareness and relax into poses. The breath also gives us space in our minds. When we learn to “take a breath” we learn to act less impulsively and can make decisions and execute behaviors that are moral and reflect justice. Gaining awareness and control of the breath is also a very important stress management technique. We can positively affect our physiological processes, reduce the presence of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies, and thereby restore balance and harmony in our physical body (similar to point 1 above).
The practice of yoga emphasizes the internal focus. This should not be confused with selfishness or self-centeredness. Focusing inward means that we become more aware of our perceptions, the origins of our perceptions, our emotions, and our thoughts. Increased awareness results in more choices and more opportunities to be liberated from ideas and thoughts that may have helped us through something in the past, but no longer serve us. Mentally healthier people are also able to help others cultivate this process. And so, by learning more about ourselves, we can create more harmony, balance, justice, and order with other people in our lives and our communities.
One of the strengths of the Kemetic philosophy of our ancestors is that the connection between mental, physical, and spiritual health is seamless. Taking care of our bodies is a mental, spiritual, physical, emotional, AND political act. If you’re interested in deepening the personal purpose of your yoga practice, check out this free online mini workshop . Hotep (peace).