© Photo by: Raafat Reda Ahmed
Yoga in Ancient Egypt – The Roots of Spiritual Practice
Yoga, the practice of uniting individual consciousness with cosmic consciousness, is a timeless pursuit. In Ancient Egypt, this philosophy of self-realization and spiritual awakening was not only practiced but woven into the very fabric of their civilization. Yoga, or as it was referred to in Ancient Egypt, “Smi Tawi,” finds its roots in this ancient land, and its principles and teachings hold an intriguing connection to the more commonly known Indian traditions.
The concept of yoga in Ancient Egypt revolved around the union of the individual nature with the cosmic and divine nature, much like its Indian counterpart. In the pursuit of self-discovery and divine connection, the ancient Egyptians practiced Smi Tawi, a path of self-control and inner harmony that aimed to unlock the higher self-consciousness inherent within each person. This process was seen as a “shortcut” to understanding one’s true nature, rather than a long and arduous journey of experiential errors.
The term “Smi Tawi” symbolized the unification of the upper and lower nature of human beings, transcending the physical Earth and exploring the unification of spiritual elements. It was not just a physical practice but a deep and spiritual communion with the divine forces that flowed within and around the individual, aiming to realign the soul (“ba”) with the spirit of the creator.
In Ancient Egyptian philosophy, four key hieroglyphs were linked to the concept of yoga, each embodying an essential spiritual element:
Sima: This hieroglyph represented the union of the upper and lower psychological selves, ultimately leading to spiritual enlightenment. It symbolized the union of the lungs and the trachea, which, in turn, represented the union of the upper and lower selves, leading to the one God.
Nefer: Signifying the most beautiful, the highest choice, and the greatest achievement, Nefer represented the union of the windpipe and the heart, symbolizing the highest attainable state of the human spirit and psychological self.
Ankh: Portrayed by the combination of a masculine cross and a feminine circle, the Ankh symbol represented aspects of self that led to transformation into oneness. It was a symbol of the unification of two in one.
Ptahhotep: Meaning the highest peace and the ultimate home, this hieroglyph embodied the quest for the union of one’s own soul, a journey toward inner harmony and spiritual enlightenment.
The depiction of yoga in Ancient Egypt was not limited to hieroglyphs; it was also illustrated through artworks and spiritual writings found in tombs and ancient temples. Murals, statues, and papyrus scrolls depicted various yoga postures, offering insights into the principles and techniques of physical and spiritual perfection that the ancient Egyptians aspired to achieve. These artifacts reflect the depth of their knowledge in spiritual philosophy and their practice of cosmic and psychological meditation.
In Ancient Egypt, students were educated within a structured system known as the “mystery system.” Before delving into advanced studies in mathematics, engineering, astronomy, architecture, religion, metaphysics, ethics, and philosophy, students had to master the art of yoga. It was considered a prerequisite for intellectual and spiritual development, reaching the highest stages of knowledge and creativity.
The ancient Egyptians, therefore, laid the foundation for a comprehensive system of yoga, a practice deeply intertwined with their spirituality and cultural fabric. This insight into the roots of yoga in Ancient Egypt unveils a fascinating chapter in the history of human spiritual exploration and self-realization, connecting diverse civilizations across time and space.