Having owned and run a Martial Arts and Fitness Centre for many years I have a confession to make. Although I believed implicitly in the value of exercise, and was acting from the best knowledge I had at the time, I realise now that most of the training advice I dished out was simply wrong.
It was wrong because it was based around short term thinking and a view of health and fitness that was way too shallow. The type of overtly physical training we focused on was simply not sustainable beyond middle age and only concentrated on developing external strength and musculature. It was only as I arrived at my mid-fifties, with joints that were destroyed through over-training and things starting to go wrong throughout my body, that I realised the error of my ways. It was definitely time for a re-think. My choice was to either resign myself to becoming a couch potato, or find an activity that I could practise comfortably for the next 25 years.
You may have arrived here today for similar reasons. Perhaps you are not as young as you once were and the thought of fitness classes of a gym membership is simply no longer appealing. Maybe that type of fitness was never your thing anyway, and you are looking for an alternative solution. Whatever your current thinking you may be researching the benefits of Tai Chi vs Yoga and wondering which of these two alternative practises would be the best one for you.
Similar, Yet Different
Yoga and Tai Chi are actually very similar in many ways. They both share many of the same mental and physical benefits and come from what might be called the Eastern mind-body tradition. Tai Chi emerged in China while Yoga developed in India and both arts can trace their roots back some 5,000 years. They both integrate breath control, meditation, and set poses or positions to facilitate health and longevity. Finally, both practises acknowledge the existence and importance of a universal life force or energy that facilitates wellness throughout our total body system. Called ‘Chi’ in Tai Chi and ‘Prana’ in Yoga, it is the successful management of this energy that is seen as the real key to our health.
That said, Tai Chi and Yoga do differ in significant ways. Firstly, they differ in intent. Tai Chi is focused on managing the flow of the universal energy for complete health and well being. In its original form it is also a very potent martial art intended for use in actual combat, although it is now largely now taught solely as a form of slow meditative movement promoting health and wellness. It is probably the case that the vast majority of Tai Chi teachers operating today do not know the lethal combat applications of the movements they make in each lesson.
Tai Chi for Health
Tai Chi is about balancing the flow of chi around the body. Practitioners are encouraged to breathe slowly, deeply and naturally as they work through the sequences of graceful movements. Most Tai Chi movements are performed slowly from a standing position and take the body through its natural range of motion. Each individual pose is choreographed to flow seamlessly into the next in an unbroken sequence of movement. One of the great things about Tai Chi is that it can be practised by any age group and by people of almost any fitness level. The most popular sequence of Tai Chi is the 24 Form, which, once learned, takes about 6 minutes to complete. It can be easily incorporated into a busy lifestyle or become part of a diverse fitness regime. Studies have also shown Tai Chi can support the functional capacity of women with breast cancer, prevent strokes in high-risk patients and ease post stroke symptoms. Tai Chi also been shown to help with the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Yoga – Spiritual Growth and Physical Well-being
In its original form,Yoga is very much a spiritual practise. It focuses on facilitating the union of body, mind and spirit, leading to eventual enlightenment. The word Yoga actually means ‘union’ or ‘connection’. Although Yoga also uses controlled breathing with each movement it applies this in a slightly different way. The poses are often held for a certain number of breaths rather than flowing from one to another on each breath.
While both practices improve physical strength and endurance, both are low impact forms of exercise. However, Yoga can be much more physically demanding than Tai Chi with many of the intermediate and advanced poses requiring significant levels of strength and flexibility to perform. Yoga encourages ever greater levels of flexibility and strength with preparatory stretches, poses and visualisations leading to even more advanced poses over time.
So, What are the Benefits of Tai Chi and Yoga?
People who practise Yoga or Tai Chi experience a very similar set of results:
Improved cardiovascular and respiratory health
Gains in strength and flexibility
Decreased anxiety and depression
Gains in cognitive function.
When deciding which art would be best for you there are some questions you should be asking. What are you looking to achieve? Do you want your mind-body practise to focus on physical and mental health and general wellness or would you like an activity that promotes more spiritual engagement? How physically fit are you? Yoga tends to be more physically demanding. The truth is that it doesn’t have to be a choice between Tai Chi or Yoga. They can complement one another beautifully, with Tai Chi boosting meditation progress and Yoga improving physical strength and flexibility more rapidly.
Thanks for stopping by. Remember, whatever your eventual choice you will experience significant mental and physical benefits from either art as both practices provide an amazing integrated health care and healing system for their practitioners. Please, keep in touch. Share a comment or questions and I will get back to you. Click here to read The Big Idea – it may help you to understand more about our healing philosophy.
People come to Tai Chi for many different reasons. Simply following the flowing movements of the form is an excellent way to relax and help maintain natural health. It really does make you feel good and, unlike many other fitness regimes, Tai Chi can be performed by anyone regardless of age or current physical condition.
At another level Tai Chi is a sophisticated martial art and system of self defence. Literally translated Tai Chi means ‘Supreme Ultimate Boxing’ – but it is a combat art with a difference. Unlike many of the other martial arts that rely on muscle power and physical strength Tai Chi seeks to develop and direct inner power, or Chi. This “softer’ approach should not be confused with weak or ineffectual – anyone who has felt the power of a Tai Chi master’s punch will know it is anything but soft!
One of the problems with so many martial arts today is their lack of a strong moral compass. Training the body in potentially lethal combat techniques without a corresponding development at an emotional level is like putting a loaded machine gun in the hands of a six year old and telling them to go and play in the park!
Within Tai Chi, the emphasis placed on correct body alignments, physical dynamics, and balance must be mirrored at an emotional level too. Practitioners of Tai Chi are expected to be well balanced individuals of peaceful nature and good intent. The art itself has remarkable powers of transformation. If you currently feel less than balanced, or are prone to being a little aggressive or hostile, practising Tai Chi will help you to develop a calmer and more even personality.
But the story does not end there. Tai Chi is most importantly an expression of the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism. This philosophy is characterised as a way of liberation, a pathway that will lead to certain spiritual insights into the nature of all existence.
It is for each student to determine the extent of their own interest in Tai Chi. It could be a wonderful aid to improved physical and mental health or an extremely effective system of personal self-defence. But it can also be a life long pursuit for those seeking spiritual development and a real understanding of the way the universe works.
It is up to each individual to practise their Tai Chi in harmony with their own personal development. Whatever your goals the most important thing is to enjoy your Tai Chi journey!