Yoga and Tai Chi have a lot in common, which is why they are often called “cousins” in the world of fitness and belong to the so-called “mind-body movement” – a category of physical activities that combine physical movement, mental focus, and breathing exercises. So, both are focused on physical strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility while emphasizing the power of the mind and inner piece.
However, despite their similar nature, they still have many differences. This article discusses the differences and unique characteristics of yoga and Tai Chi and how one can benefit from practicing either discipline.
What Are the Differences Between Tai Chi and Yoga?
While both originate on the Asian continent, the two practices were born in different places, times, and cultures.
Yoga is an ancient Indian practice, while Tai Chi comes from middle-age China. Additionally, one is considered a mixture of physical, mental, and spiritual practices, while the other is a martial art practice with self-defense as the primary goal.
To better understand both, let’s explore them separately.
What Is Yoga?
While yoga is 5000 years old, it was only during the early 20th century in India that the physical aspect became more emphasized. Throughout the years, yoga spread to the West, where it changed and developed into the various styles we know today.
The main elements of a yoga class are:
- Physical practice;
Yoga teachings consist of three aspects:
- Physical (balance, stamina, flexibility, and energy through asanas – poses);
- Spiritual (consciousness of the self, one’s emotions, physical environment, other people, the body in space – lifestyle choices and beliefs);
- Mental (relaxation, stress relief, peace, positive thinking, self-acceptance – self-awareness and introspection).
People can choose which aspects of the holistic yoga practice to invest in. They can take a deep spiritual journey with Siddha or Satsang Yoga or focus more on the physical aspect, like in Ashtanga or Power Yoga.
Yoga sessions include movement through various poses (asanas). And each movement is synchronized with breathing. You’ll learn different breathing techniques during your yoga sessions and will be instructed on how to breathe during each movement.
The goal of yoga is to strengthen the body and sync it with the mind through introspection and meditation.
What Is Tai Chi?
The history of Tai Chi dates back to the 1300s, although the exact origins are obscure. The practice was first developed in rural Chinese villages as a fighting art, and made its way to the USA in the 1950s.
Because Tai Chi has roots in martial arts, every posture has self-defense or martial function. At first glance, these postures may seem like gentle movements that mimic animals’ movements in nature, but as you get more into them, the self-defense element becomes more apparent.
In Tai Chi, the practitioner changes positions while standing and taking carefully calculated steps. The legs carry the body, and the arm movements are slow and graceful, while the core should be very stable. The movement comes from the abdomen and back, not the shoulders and arms.
During a Tai-chi session, the body needs to be in uninterrupted motion. Focusing on the breath is very important and you should take deep breaths from the diaphragm.
The Benefits of Yoga
Since yoga is an eclectic exercise that engages the body, soul, and mind, the benefits of yoga range from physical and body strength to mental health, life satisfaction, and overall well-being.
Strength and Flexibility
Research from 2016 showed that people most often practice yoga to increase their flexibility. Even the most mellow, low-impact yoga styles have the power to increase body flexibility – even among adults above 65 years old.
Along with flexibility, yoga can improve physical strength, endurance, and balance among all age groups.
Stress Coping and Mental Health
Another well-known benefit of yoga is stress relief. A considerable body of research has revealed the positive effects of yoga on stress, anxiety, depression, and life quality. While the physical practice of yoga certainly helps our body to increase endorphin production, which is essential for balancing mood, meditation, breathing exercises, and chanting have been proven beneficial for lessening the body’s stress reaction.
Yoga can help reduce the inflammatory reaction of the organism, which is a common precursor to various chronic diseases (heart diseases, diabetes, vascular diseases, etc). A research review of 15 studies about the impact of different types of yoga on inflammatory biomarkers showed that yoga can reduce this inflammatory reaction and help prevent some chronic conditions.
Sleep and Brain Function
Why Do People Like Yoga?
As mentioned above, the majority of people choose yoga to improve flexibility. However, those who practice it long-term stay for the other benefits, such as stress relief, self-discovery journey, spirituality, or a sense of belonging.
The Benefits of Tai Chi
Similar to yoga, the benefits of Tai Chi are wide-ranging, covering both physical and mental health, life satisfaction, and well-being.
Stress, Mood, and Sleep
Usually, stress, mood, and sleep are all connected, so one can say that Tai Chi kills three birds with one stone.
A study conducted in 2018 has shown that Tai Chi is as good for stress and anxiety relief as exercise. The authors hypothesize that it may even be superior to yoga because of the breathing exercises. Although the study didn’t reveal the exact mechanisms, another study showed that Tai Chi positively impacts mood and emotional regulation.
Tai Chi can be a great addition to traditional methods of healing chronic illnesses.
A 2018 study revealed that Tai Chi can reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia (bone and muscular pain with increased tenderness, fatigue, and sleep disturbances), and it even has a higher success rate than aerobic exercises.
It also reduces the symptoms of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), as patients have reported improvements in their ability to exercise and in overall life quality.
The most impressive, perhaps, is the fact that Tai Chi helps reduce the falling frequency in patients with Parkinson’s disease through leg strengthening, coordination, and balance improvement.
Finally, since Tai Chi is a moderate type of exercise, it’s safe and even desirable for people with coronary heart disease, as it helps them lose weight and increase physical activity.
Why Do People Like Tai Chi?
People who prefer moderate-impact physical activity tend to also prefer Tai Chi. It’s elegant and exciting, and most people like it because it helps them reduce stress, increase their flexibility, and improve their balance.
Who Can Do Yoga?
With so many different types of yoga, there is something for everybody. That means anyone can do yoga, but they need to choose a style and intensity according to their preferences and fitness level.
If you haven’t exercised in ages, going to a dynamic Ashtanga Yoga session will probably be a disheartening experience, while a light Hatha Yoga for beginners sounds more attainable. If you want to lose weight and detox, Hot or Power Yoga is the right choice, while Yoga Nidra is more meditative for those interested in a spiritual journey.
Who Can Do Tai Chi?
When it comes to Tai Chi, everyone is welcome, and anyone can do it. People from all fitness levels are encouraged to try it as the strength is gradually built. Tai Chi is a great and safe recreation for older adults or people suffering from cardiovascular, pulmonary, or even Parkinson’s disease.
Although they have different origins, backgrounds, and histories, yoga and Tai Chi have become mainstream in modern-day fitness, where they are often seen as cousins. Both activities are excellent opportunities to sync your mindfulness practice with your fitness goals. So, choose the one you’re more interested in exploring, and if you’re consistent with it, you’ll start reaping the benefits in no time.