Comparing the Practices and Benefits of Tai Chi and Yoga
Tai chi and yoga share many physical and mental health benefits and other aspects in common, though their similarities in approach to these outcomes are few. Yoga and Tai chi are both ancient Eastern practices that are ever more popular in the hectic modern world. Both practices offer highly valuable opportunities to escape from the fast pace of the daily environment and develop a routine that improves overall health and wellness and tranquility. The essential difference between tai chi and yoga is in the kind of activity each involves.
Yoga is a practice of holding static poses (also called postures, or asana), whereas tai chi involves gentle flowing body movements of martial arts forms. Both are low-impact but can advance from beginner to advanced levels of intensity for people of varying levels of physical fitness.
Whether you’re practicing a yoga posture or performing a tai chi movement, both provide many physical and mental benefits. But, which can help you be healthier and live longer than the other? Let’s look at the differences between these two mental and physical fitness art forms:
Tai Chi or Yoga – Which is Better?
Both yoga and tai chi are gentle forms of exercise used for centuries. Both benefit the body and mind. So how can you determine which is right for you? There are some differences that can help you recognize which is a better fit with your personal needs and preferences.
Yoga combines practices of controlling breathing, postures, and resting. The goal is to challenge oneself physically to the edge of feeling overwhelmed but not beyond, and at the threshold, the emphasis is on controlling breathing, accepting that state, and finding a sense of calmness.
Tai chi is a low-impact martial art that involves very slow body motions flowing from one to another as you breathe deeply and meditate. Tai chi embraces the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang, which are opposing principles balancing the infinite and all it contains. Practitioners believe it aids the body’s energy flow and Yin/Yang balance for optimum health.
The two disciplines share a long list of health and wellness benefits. Both aim at integrating mental and physical health, and both address muscle strength, respiration, and cardiovascular health. Examining them separately reveals nearly identical benefits and significant differences only in the methodologies.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a physical practice of postures believed to help build optimum strength, greater awareness, and increased mental and physical harmony. For disciplined students of the discipline, yoga is a lifestyle, not just a choice of type of exercise. Many view it as a way of promoting natural self-healing. Translated, yoga means joining together. The goal of yoga, per the American Yoga Association, is to achieve the ideal harmony of mind and body.
There are over 100 forms of yoga, including the popular Hatha style, which combines multiple yoga forms. Most include breathing exercises, meditation, holding postures, and stretching. The expanded practice of yoga further involves a vast range of applications in contemplation and self-discipline. For example, there is meditation, the use of a mantra, chanting, praying, rituals, and other activities.
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is beneficial for overall physical and mental health. From people recovering from physical or mental health conditions to professional athletes, yoga can be an effective way toward general self-improvement.
Research by the National Institutes of Health and other large studies indicate potential benefits from yoga in cases of arthritis, balance issues, chronic pain, and others. There is reportedly some evidence that the practice of yoga may help activate brain regions involved in attention, executive functioning, and neuroplasticity.
Yoga benefits physical and mental health in many ways. From people recovering from physical or mental health conditions to professional athletes, yoga can be an effective way toward general self-improvement. The benefits of yoga include:
What is Tai Chi?
The primary elements of tai chi are movement, deep breathing, and meditation. As in yoga, there are many styles of tai chi. For example, the popular Chen style, and the Sun, Yang, and Wu styles are all still in use today. This physical and mental fitness art form integrates timeless movements from routines of the past 1,000 years.
While tai chi is a martial art, it doesn’t employ high-impact motions, which has contributed to its widely popular practice by people of all ages. Practicing tai chi involves gracefully doing gentle, slow, flowing motions, which lend to achieving a meditative state of mind. This is a point of departure from the kind of meditation involved in yoga practices. Tai chi practitioners can achieve a sense of tranquility during their routines, but that happens through motions grounded on a philosophy applied to martial arts movements.
What are the Benefits of Tai Chi?
Tai chi is grounded in Taoism’s yin/yang principles of balance between the physical and spiritual. Through low-impact movements, along with deep breathing and achieving a meditative state of mind, the practice of tai chi can deliver many physical and mental health benefits.
Tai-Chi health benefits are documented and well-recognized in Western health care. For example, the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and Harvard Health, among others, have acknowledged the benefits of regular Tai-Chi practice. Reportedly, one (2014) study has determined that tai chi practice promotes stronger connectivity in attention and some cognitive functions in previously sedentary older adults.
Tai chi can be especially beneficial for people who need to increase muscle strength and flexibility. Along with adopting healthy eating habits, routinely practicing tai chi helps maintain mental and physical well-being and an overall sense of greater balance.
The particular mental and physical health benefits of routinely practicing tai chi can include these and others:
Who Can Practice Tai Chi or Yoga?
Because both tai chi and yoga impose low stress on muscles and joints, generally speaking, both can be practiced by people of any age, from school children to elderly adults. Both disciplines offer excellent beginner-level fitness programs. Ask the yoga or tai chi instructor you want to train with about their training and experience working with the age(s) of the student(s) you want to enroll. Speak with a healthcare professional about any medical condition that may cause even low-impact movement, as in tai chi or yoga, to be inappropriate.
So, Which is Best for Me – Tai Chi or Yoga?
The practice of either of these meditative physical disciplines engages the participant in a lifestyle change that can positively impact mental and physical health and help people prevent the need to treat symptoms from avoidable problems later.
So, for the best long-term outcomes, just choose based on which form of exercise you would most enjoy — a martial arts method of movement or a routine of holding prescribed poses.
United Studios of Self Defense (USSD), Vancouver, WA
At the USSD, we are dedicated to improving our students’ lives and our larger community through the extraordinary benefits of practicing and developing skills in tai chi and other martial arts. We apply time-tested training methods to help our students achieve greater mental, emotional, and physical self-empowerment skills and become their best selves.