Deciding to become a Yoga teacher was easy. Finding the right teacher training program proved to be more difficult. In a world filled with gurus and masters, I grew weary with programs that made me feel like supporting the guru was more important than my own development. After looking a year of looking at different training programs across the country, I finally found the right fit when a friend suggested I train with Yirser Ra Hotep of YogaSkills. While Yirser is definitely a Master Teacher, it is not because he wants to be known as such. Yirser is a Master Teacher because he has devoted himself to his own practice for 30 years and has found a way to inspire his students to the same level of commitment. In just a few short months of working with Yirser, I can see how Yoga integrates into my personal and professional life. He has taught me not to become a Yoga teacher, but a practitioner who happens to teach Yoga. His life is his classroom and learning from him is effortless. He is my teacher, but more than that, my friend and my brother.
I was honored to speak with Yirser about his own practice and how it has grown over the years. If you’re new to Yoga, read below as Yirser shared how he began his practice over 30 years ago.
After 30 years of practice, some may see your ability to engage complex postures and poses as intimidating. What poses did you find especially challenging as you became more proficient in your practice?
I initially found all of the practices challenging. The only pose I could do rather easily was the head stand, but my flexibility was very limited. However, I never felt really intimidated by anything. My teacher, who had a similar upbringing as mine, stated that he had many problems with his the structure of his body prior to Yoga and was able to correct them. My attitude was that if he can do it, then I can do it. At the same time I understood that the ultimate aim of the practice was not to see how many postures I can do but to move energy with breath control and concentration. Though I did strive to master the movements and postures, I understood that there would be many that I would never master and that is okay, too. When people who practice Yoga attempt to judge themselves or others by how many postures they can master or how flexible they can be, they actually violate a basic precept of Yoga, which is to dissolve the ego. We should not strive to master postures but to master ourselves. To master ourselves means to master and dissolve the ego and the need to compete with the self by “winning” or mastering the pose. I master the pose as a means of mastering the self, becoming in tune with the divine universal self and to dissolve the ego.
What was your first yoga class like physically? Mentally? Spirituay?
The first time I practiced Yoga I was not able to do many of the postures well from a physical perspective, but I felt good just attempting them. I could feel the stretch of the muscles and the release of tension. Mentally, I felt that I had a lot to remember, but that I would take my time and be committed for the long run. After my first class, I was hooked. I knew that my body wasn’t where I wanted it be flexibility wise and in other ways, but I knew that I was going to invest my time and energy into engaging in the process and that it would take time. It was funny, but I was very clear about this after the first class. Prior to taking my first Yoga class I had been practicing fasting, fruitarianism, some meditation and astral projection as well as long distance running and working out. I was also exploring spirituality and doing lots of reading and reflection on myself and who I am. So, Yoga was something I just flowed into very easily although I couldn’t do the postures well initially.
I can relate to that. I feel like I connected to the principles of yoga long before I began to work through the poses and postures. Personally speaking, what drives you to practice with such consistency? What role does yoga serve in your daily life?
My practice is driven by addiction. I am addicted to Yoga, eating for wellness and simply developing myself. By addiction I mean that I feel good when I practice and do all the other things that I do to become and remain centered. When I don’t practice I feel negative, my days don’t go as well and I am not as productive. Bad things are more likely to happen because I am not using all of my psychic senses to navigate through the nuances of my day. Many years ago I consumed various substances in order to feel good, but the side effects were extremely negative and in the long run reduce effectiveness. In my opinion, we are all addicted.
We are addicted to good things or to bad things in our life. We have to choose the positive addiction just like making the choice between the blue pill and the red pill. I understood early on in my practice, which I started when I was around 22 years old, that I was making an investment that would pay off with high dividends when I reach into my 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. I was investing in a youthful and healthy future for when I became an elder. I wanted to have the body and wellness associated with a 25 year old when I am 80 years old. I was considered a master of Yoga by the time I was 28 years old. At the age of 58, I retain much of my ability and all that I don’t have right now, I can get it back within a couple of weeks of more intensive practice and training.
You’ve traveled to Ancient Egypt on several occasions to discover the pyramids for yourself and to practice Kemetic yoga. What is it like to practice such an ancient art form in one of the most mystical places on Earth?
I’ve been to Egypt about 12 times since 1995. Each time I go there I discover something new about the ancient past and about myself. I’ve had many mystical experiences in Kemet. Among the most significant was the discovery of the Yoga practice I call Ma’at Ka. I was in the city of Luxor in central Egypt practicing Yoga on the bank of the Nile River and as I practiced, my body started to go through this series of postures almost by itself. When I got back home, I perfected the practices and started to teach it to various people and students. The feedback I received was that it was very beneficial for spinal problems and opened the energy channels in the body. In 1995 on my first visit to Egypt, I was able to be alone in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid and meditate for over an hour. I experienced being transported through time into the past and then into the future. I was able to experience the entire history of Black people from the most ancient of time and into the far future. This experience was traumatic at some points as I experienced past, but I learned that we should not fear the future and I am optimistic about it. Through my practice in Kemet, I’ve been able to discover that the sacred places (pyramids, temples, tombs) are placed on energy vortexes that amplify our internal energy and psycho-spiritual abilities. I am able to perceive the energy that is present at these locations. The energy at the pyramid of Sakhara is particularly strong. Sakhara is the first known pyramid built by Imhotep. The impressions I pick up from being in Kemet is that pyramids and temples are built on top of sites that previously contained spiritual structures 10s of thousands of years ago.
I love to hear about your travels to Egypt! I can’t wait to join you this summer and experience the energy for myself. One of the things I appreciate about Kemetic Yoga is the simplicity and ease that encourages practice at any level. I’ve experienced a deep sense of bliss and balance after incorporating Ma’at Ka into my practice. As more students discover the benefits of Ma’at Ka, I am sure that it will become part of your legacy with YogaSkills. What would you like for your legacy to be?
I don’t know what I want my legacy to be. I definitely want to be considered a father and grandfather by my children and grandchildren. I also want to be known as a good son, brother, cousin and uncle. I want to be known as having been a teacher who was dedicated to helping others through the Kemetic and holistic way of Yoga and living in general. I’d like to also be known as someone who didn’t accept things as they are but who tried to change them and to pursue truth. Finally, I’d like to be known as a scientist of the art of Kemetic Yoga who fostered innovation and maintained high standards of excellence.
Being your student and having met two of your children, I can say you have accomplished that and much more. I truly enjoy learning from you and am glad that I followed my intuition to train with you. Hotep!
Yirser will be conducting a 200 and 500 hour Yoga Teacher Training in Montego Bay, Jamaica February 4 – February 14, 2012 and the annual YogaSkills Land of the Pharaoh’s Tour of Ancient Egypt July 24 – August 4, 2012. He will also have additional workshops and teacher trainings/certifications in Houston, Virginia, LA, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville & New York in 2012. For more info, please visit www.YogaSkills.com or email Yirser at Yirser@YogaSkills.com.