What Is the Difference Between Qi Gong and Tai Chi?

Updated: Jan 24

Tai chi and qi gong are both centuries-old practices with roots in ancient China.

The health benefits of these practices are considered to be rather holistic, potentially positively affecting both your mind and your body.

While other Eastern practices like yoga might be more well known in the West, it can take a bit of study to understand lesser-known exercises like qi gong and tai chi.

Are you considering beginning one of these flowing movement practices but aren’t sure which to choose? Here’s a comprehensive look at qi gong vs tai chi: their similarities and differences.

What Is Tai Chi?

Tai chi is a Chinese internal martial art. It’s practiced as a means of defense training as well as a form of meditation and is known to have numerous health benefits.

There are quite a few different training forms of tai chi that have evolved from the original martial art form. The five traditional schools of tai chi are Chen, Sun, Wu (Hao), Wu, and Yang, out of which most modern tai chi styles trace their development. The oldest style of tai chi and the parent form of these five schools is the Chen family-style.

The practice of tai chi evolved in relation to traditional philosophical principles, including those of Confucianism and Taoism. The concept of the supreme ultimate (taiji) exists in both of these Chinese philosophies and represents the fusion of yin and yang to produce a single ultimate.

There are five elements involved in tai chi training. They are:

  1. Taolu: Weapons and solo hand routines/forms

  2. Neigong: Breathing and movement

  3. Qigong: Awareness and meditation

  4. Tuishou: Response and reactions

  5. Sanshou: Self-defense

Tai chi is known to many by its slow movements, but there are quite a few styles that have secondary forms that include a faster pace. Some of the traditional schools teach tuishou, a partner exercise that’s also known as pushing hands, as well as martial arts applications of the different postures.

The Health Benefits of Tai Chi

In the early 20th century, the health benefits of tai chi were widely promoted by the likes of Yang Chengfu, Wu Chien-ch’uan, Sun Lutan, and Yang Shaohu. As a result of this, there is a worldwide following of the martial art that focuses more on the personal health benefits.

Stress and Anxiety Reduction

One 2018 study found that tai chi provides the same benefits as traditional exercise for managing stress-related anxiety. The researchers noted that tai chi might be better than other forms of exercise for reducing anxiety and stress because of the inclusion of focused breathing and meditation.

Mood Improvement

There has been some preliminary research that suggests that regular tai chi practice can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It is possible that the slow, mindful breathing and movement in the practice positively affect mood-regulating hormones and the nervous system.

Weight Loss Promotion

One study followed the weight changes in a group of adults that practiced tai chi for 45 minutes five times a week. After twelve weeks, the participants lost more than one pound without having made other lifestyle changes.

Improved Sleep Quality

Studies have been done that show a connection between regular tai chi practice and more restful sleep. A 2013 study found that tai chi could be considered as an alternative therapy for insomnia.

Improved Balance

Older adults who are more prone to falling can benefit from regular tai chi practice. In addition to improving their balance and motor function, it can reduce their fear of falling. It also might improve the balance and strength in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Reduces Arthritis Pain

Tai chi has been found to be as effective as physical therapy for individuals with knee osteoarthritis. There have been studies that show that people with both rheumatoid arthritis and knee osteoarthritis reported less pain and improved mobility after twelve weeks of tai chi practice.

There is more research to be done in the field of tai chi health benefits, but the studies so far have been promising. Since tai chi is low impact, it is generally considered safe for both healthy adults and those living with a chronic condition.

What Is Qi Gong?

Qi gong has roots that date back more than 4,000 years in ancient Chinese culture. Over time, a wide variety of forms have developed of qi gong in different segments of Chinese society.

Used for the purposes of spirituality, health, and martial arts training, qi gong is a system of coordinated body posture and breathing, movement, and meditation. The practice intends to cultivate qi, which means “life energy.”

The practice of qi gong often involves moving meditation, deep rhythmic breathing, slow-flowing movements, and a meditative mind state. Around the world, people practice qi gong for a number of reasons, including:

  • Exercise

  • Recreation

  • Preventative medicine

  • Relaxation

  • Self-healing

  • Meditation

  • Self-cultivation

  • Alternative medicine

  • Martial arts training

In addition to movement, breathing, and meditation, qi gong practice can include sound meditation, massage, and chanting.

The two foundational categories of qi gong are dynamic (active) qi gong and meditative (passive) qi gong. For therapeutic purposes, it can also be divided into two categories of internal and external qi gong.

While once mainly associated with Buddhist and Taoist monks in China, today there are millions of people around the world who practice qi gong.

The Health Benefits of Qi Gong