Tai Chi vs Yoga – Which is Best?

By Irepkabl, via Wikimedia Commons

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

By PBS NewsHour from Arlington, [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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 vs Yoga
By SONGMY [CC BY 2.5 cn], via Wikimedia Commons
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:

  • Decreased stress
  • Improved cardiovascular and respiratory health
  • Gains in strength and flexibility
  • Decreased anxiety and depression
  • Gains in cognitive function.

By Mike H from Seattle, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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.

Watch a short video on Tai Chi and Yoga by CLICKING HERE.

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.

Tai Chi Stress Relief – Rediscovering Mindfullness in a Hectic World

(c) Can Stock Photo / alphaspirit

Mindfulness has become something of a buzz word in recent times with lessons and classes popping up everywhere. It seems that our fast paced world has created something of a monster, with stress related ‘dis-ease’ almost endemic amongst our population. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that an answer to the daily stress we feel may have been with us all the time. The ancient art of Tai Chi provides a simple and readily accessible activity that allows people to decrease stress and anxiety by slowing the pace at which theeir mind and body functions. This article explores the benefits of using Tai Chi stress relief solutions as an alternative to some of the less healthy activities we often indulge in!

So Busy Making a Living That We Forget To Make a Life.

We live such hectic lives, rushing through the day from work, to collecting the kids and then hurriedly racing home to make dinner for the family. How often do we actually stop and just breathe? This fast paced lifestyle certainly takes its toll on our health and general wellness as we constantly seem to be on alert, working out what we have to do next. Can I get this report finished on time? Do I have time for lunch? Ahhh! This traffic jam will make me late for my meeting?

We spend so much of our day in this hyper-alert state that our stress response is running almost flat out. As we hit a chronic state of fight, flight or freeze, joy itself seems to evaporate from our lives and happiness becomes a distant memory; something we left behind in our childhood but definitely not something that is a permanent part of our adult life.

If you suffer from any of these symptoms on a regular basis the likelihood is that you are suffering from chronic stress:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Inability to focus
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • Accelerated breathing pattern
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nervous energy expressed by pacing, nail biting and fidgeting

The Solution? Pause and Take a Breath

One of Tai Chi’s foundational components, deep breathing, immediately slows the body and the mind by disengaging the fight, flight or freeze response and activating the relaxation response. The mindful awareness achieved when performing the slow movements of Tai Chi allows a person to disengage from stressful stimuli and stressful thought patterns and facilitates a calm and relaxed mind.

Connecting with the breath is one of the first activities performed during a Tai Chi practice. Once a practitioner establishes their stance, they allow their breath to deepen and slow and endeavour to maintain this style of breathing throughout the practise. This type of breathing turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, eliciting the relaxation response in the body.

This has the opposite effect to the sympathetic nervous. The sympathetic nervous system activates the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system soothes and calms the body. Practising deep breathing alters the way the body reacts to stress; fight,flight or freeze ceases to be the default response to any stressful stimuli.

And Move….

By Sergio Luiz Villasboas [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Tai Chi practitioners perform each of the poses in the various Tai Chi forms slowly and with great focus. They will narrow their perception to their immediate actions and surroundings. For example, they focus on where their feet meet the ground or the sensations associated with shifting their weight from one foot to another. As they lift their arms, they may note the way their hands look and the way the muscles of their shoulders and upper back feel as their arms rise and fall.

With practise this elevated concentration becomes effortless. Once memorised by the mind as well as the body, muscle memory comes into play, which allows long-term practitioners to find a meditative state. Their attention shifts from the mechanics of the practice to its content; from the how to the what of being in the present moment. The intellect ceases to name an object, idea, or activity and the practitioner experiences an expansive awareness. In this way Tai Chi becomes a moving meditation experience! 

Don’t Be Mislead Though

Just because Tai Chi is practised slowly and as a form of moving meditation doesn’t mean it is a soft or weak option. It still has many of the same physical benefits as traditional Western exercise. These benefits include building strength and flexibility, stress reduction, improved cardiovascular function, improved immune system function, improved sleep and a general sense of well-being. And it accomplishes all this with far lower physiological impact. Unlike many traditional exercise systems, your body will thank you for it as you age!

Tai Chi Stress Relief – The Bottom Line

Tai Chi’s slow and repetitive nature makes it simple to learn. The practice does not require any special equipment and you only needs a few feet of space in which to move. It provides an effective and proven approach to physical fitness, mindfulness, and meditation and does this by combining deep breathing with focused movement. It is suitable for all ages, all fitness levels and in many cases can even be practised by people with limited capacity for movement.

Finally, practising Tai Chi can definitely reduce the way your body reponds to the stresses and strains of life, leading to greatly increased levels of physical and mental well-being.

Thanks for stopping by, I wish you all the best as you research your own path to reducing the stress in your life. 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 our healing philosophy.