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What Is the Difference Between Qi Gong and Tai Chi?

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

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

Qi gong is a gentle but powerful exercise for both your mind and your body. Qi gong exercises can be done without any equipment both indoors and outdoors. There are a number of health benefits to the practice of qi gong.

Reduced Stress Levels

There have been studies that show that regular qi gong practice can lower stress hormone levels and enhance nervous system activity. This is a powerful health benefit, as chronic stress increases the risk of disease and illness.

Pain Reduction

A study involving women with severe fibromyalgia reported experiencing 75% less pain after 5-7 sessions practiced with a qi gong master teacher. It’s also been shown to help rheumatoid arthritis patients who practiced for 1-2 hours a day.

Promotes Heart Health

If your heart is overtaxed, you can be at a higher risk for a long list of diseases. One study found that qi gong helped people with computer-bound occupations to reduce their blood pressure and slow their heart rates throughout the day.

Promotes Weight Loss

Using qi gong for weight loss is a sustainable and healthy way to shed extra pounds. Qi gong can strengthen your digestive system, boost your metabolism, and provide movement exercise at the same time. The meditative and breathing-practice aspects of qi gong can also help reduce your cravings for food.

Promotes Strength, Flexibility, and Balance

Many exercise programs focus on one of these categories at the expense of the others. Through its flowing and gentle movements, qi gong promotes all three.

The practice of qi gong has effects on many levels, including physical, mental, and spiritual. Many students feel energized and relaxed after sessions, reporting a deep and restful sleep that same night. By supporting your body’s natural tendency to return to balance and equilibrium, qi gong is an ancient practice that can improve your life on many levels.

Qi Gong Vs Tai Chi: What Exactly Is the Difference?

There are many similarities between tai chi and qi gong, and they are deeply interconnected practices.

Both of these practices enter around cultivating the qi. Qi is the animating power that permeates all living things and the universe. For a body to be healthy and properly functioning, it is understood that qi must be free-flowing and balanced.

When comparing tai chi vs qi gong, we see that they have many things in common. The basic property is the same (qi), the fundamental principle is the same (relaxation), and the method is the same (slowness).

There are several important differences between tai chi and qi gong, however. These include:

Light Vs. Dense Power

Qi gong power is “light” while tai chi power is “dense.” The forms in qi gong are less intricate than in tai chi. This means that it’s characteristics are less defined and more general.

Qi Accumulation

Higher-level tai chi strongly accumulates qi throughout the meridians, ligaments, and tendons. On the other hand, qi gong is more gentle and less powerful.

Choreography Level

Qi gong involves less elaborate and less advanced choreography than tai chi. This makes it more accessible to individuals of all ages and skill levels.

Form Study

Tai chi is focused on studying the forms that involve integration, alignment, coordination, precision, connection, and unity. In qi gong, there is no need to study the forms.

Meditative Aspects

The meditative aspects of qi gong can be more intense than those of tai chi.

While the differences between tai chi and qi gong might seem subtle, they are very real and can influence which practice you decide to participate in.

Qi Gong and Tai Chi Can Help You Attain Balance in Your Body, Mind, and Spirit

Now more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself: mind, body, and spirit.

Qi gong is the more accessible practice when you compare qi gong vs tai chi. While there are benefits to both, beginning with qi gong can be a great jumping-off point.

Are you interested in beginning qi gong practices? Give yourself the gift of vibrant energy today with our Qi Gong Awakens.

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