An average Westerner doesn’t always realize that tai chi is a type of martial art. In fact, it is often confused with yoga. However, yoga and tai chi are completely different.
What Is Tai Chi?
The confusion lies in a misunderstanding of the definition of “martial arts.” They are not singularly purposed for self-defense. In fact, martial arts are equally intended for reaching physical fitness, for mental and spiritual development, for entertainment, and for preserving cultural heritage. Tai chi touches on all of these goals. It’s a form of meditating while moving, incorporating slow, rhythmic movements that help the practicer relax and find inner peace and calm. Unlike yoga, there are no pauses in movement. Tai chi postures constantly evolve with relaxed movements.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga, meanwhile, comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, meaning to yoke or bind, and is usually interpreted as a method of self-discipline. Yoga is believed to have been collated into the Yoga Sutra by the Indian sage Patanjali, approximately 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a guidebook used for most yoga practice today. It outlines the eight limbs of yoga, the goal of the limbs being to start by refining one’s behavior in the outer world, and finish by focusing inwardly until samadhi (meaning liberation or enlightenment) is reached. The eight limbs are: restraints (yamas,) observances (niyamas,) postures (asanas,) breathing (pranayama,) withdrawal of senses (pratyahara,) concentration (dharana,) meditation (dhyani,) and absorption (samadhi.) Unlike tai chi, yoga’s focus is stillness, with every posture held for several seconds or minutes, allowing the body to fill with positive energy between movements.
What Tai Chi and Yoga Have In Common
Therefore, tai chi and yoga have very different origins and definitions. However, they do have certain similarities, which makes confusion between the disciplines understandable. Neither is what most of us define as a traditional workout. Both yoga and tai chi focus on precise movements that slowly transition the body from one position to another. They both attempt to coordinate positive energy surrounding the body with one’s muscles, bones, heart, and mind. Both disciplines use controlled breathing and meditation to enhance the respective practice. And they both have been credited as effective treatments for relieving pain caused by certain medical conditions.
Health Benefits of Tai Chi and Yoga
Tai chi has been shown to improve symptoms of arthritis, high blood pressure, and Parkinson’s disease. Regular practice of yoga has been shown to lower heart rate, blood pressure, depression, and pain across the body. Regular practice of either discipline improves the quality of life of patients with cancer and heart disease. Both practices use a mind-body approach to calm the entire being for relief of stress, rather than focusing on solely the physical body.
Differences Between Tai Chi and Yoga
Advantages and disadvantages of each practice truly depends on the person and one’s specific needs. If you’d prefer the constant movement of tai chi, and holding yoga poses makes you nervous, tai chi will relieve your stress more effectively. But if yoga’s stillness speaks to your soul, maybe yoga will work better for you. Tai chi can improve the balance of seniors as old as 92, and help decrease a senior’s fear of falling. However, yoga is a better choice to improve one’s stationary balance, with its emphasis on static poses. Practicing yoga regularly teaches one how to evenly distribute weight across both feet, which drastically improves stability.
The best way to compare tai chi and yoga? Try both!