Tai Chi vs Yoga (Detailed Comparison of the Differences)

There are many different ways to get a great workout and ultimately achieve your fitness goals.

Some workouts can be intense and vigorous, such as lifting weights or high impact cardio, but there are other forms of gentle exercises that can help calm your mind while still giving you plenty of health benefits.

One of them is yoga, which am pretty sure you’ve already heard a lot about, or maybe even tried it yourself.

Yoga has many wonderful benefits, but there’s also a growing number of people who are choosing to practice Tai Chi for exercise.

Tai Chi and yoga share many similarities, but each of them has its own unique benefits, pros, and cons.

In general, Tai Chi is a flowing practice that involves more movement, fewer pauses or holding certain poses as is normally the case with yoga.

Tai Chi also encourages less inward reflection, preferring to promote movement throughout the space with ease and grace.

With yoga, you spend most of the time on the floor or on your mat. Tai Chi will usually have you on your feet more frequently.

This article will give you an in-depth comparison between Tai Chi and yoga so that you can decide which one suits you best:


What Is Tai Chi?

what is tai chi
This is an original hand drawn illustration from TAIJI (Tai Chi), a martial arts series.

In simple terms, Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art which has been practiced for several centuries now. The debate on its exact origin is still going on.

It’s a bit tricky to explain what Tai Chi really entails, but it generally involves slow, flowing, graceful movements tailored to help you invigorate and harness your body’s natural energy or qi. Qi means “life force”.

Though Tai Chi was originally used as a combat martial art, today it’s usually practiced as a type of meditative exercise similar to yoga.

According to many who practice it, it can have a lot of benefits for your physical health and fitness, as well as your mental and emotional health.

Types of Tai Chi Styles (Exercises)

Just like most other types of martial arts, there is more than one method (or style) to do Tai Chi, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.

In fact, there are at least 5 distinct types and styles of Tai Chi, all of which use different movements and tempos.

The basic Tai Chi styles include:

Yang: This is, by far, the most common type of Tai Chi exercise practiced today and the most favorable one for beginners. It mostly utilizes slow, fluid movements which can be done easily by anyone regardless of their fitness level.

Chen: This is one of the most complex Tai Chi styles and its best practiced by advanced practitioners. It is a complicated style that alternates fast and slow movements. Before trying Chen, you should at least have learned one of the other methods.

Wu: This is even slower than the Yang style, and it is usually a more meditative type of Tai Chi. It involves small, slow and graceful movements. Most of the work Wu does occurs on the inside and harnesses your body’s energy to improve your mental health from within.

Hao: This is an extremely ancient style of Tai Chi that is not really practiced anymore. If you’re aware of groups still practicing Hao, please share in the comments. I would love to learn more about any active Hao groups.

Combination: In an effort to get the best out of their Tai Chi exercises, many practitioners prefer to take little pieces from each style to create something that serves their unique needs. Some of these combinations can result in a whole new style of Tai Chi over time.


Health Benefits of Tai Chi Exercise

As explained above, Tai Chi is usually a slow, gentle and flowing art that utilizes graceful movements that people of different fitness levels can do. I know, it probably sounds too easy to be true.

Exercise is supposed to be hard right?

Well, Tai Chi is different. It is packed with plenty of benefits as outlined by this article from Harvard University.

According to the article, practicing Tai Chi may not build tons of muscle or boost your cardio, but it helps improve your balance, flexibility, and overall strength levels.

It can:

Improve Balance and Flexibility

Tai Chi movements will have you twisting and contorting your body in all sorts of challenging ways, though they’re not difficult or painful. Consistent practice of these movements will gradually improve your overall mobility.

Build Strength in the Lower or Upper Body

Even though Tai Chi does not require you to lift weights, some of the movements are challenging and will help you build stamina and muscle strength.

Be a Gentle and Easy Cardio Workout

After a Tai Chi class, you won’t be huffing or puffing as you may be used to with other forms of exercise. However, it will still raise your heart rate enough to burn a few extra calories.

If you’re consistent and disciplined, Tai Chi will help you improve your body’s aerobic conditioning without you having to struggle for it.


What Is Yoga?

what is yoga

Unlike Tai Chi which is a spiritual practice from ancient China, yoga is deeply rooted in ancient India and it is closely tied to the philosophies of the Hindu religion.

The earliest known practice of yoga is more than a thousand years ago, dating back all the way to the fifth and sixth centuries BCE.

However, yoga gained popularity in other parts of the world in the 1980s or so when it started gaining popularity for meditation and physical exercise.

I know you’re probably aware of some of the popular yoga poses (such as the tree, downward dog and warrior, among others), but what exactly is yoga about?

Why would you practice yoga?

Essentially, yoga poses and movements are specially designed to help people find inner peace, control their breathing, strengthen their bodies, and expand their consciousness.

The simple yoga explanation is it’s an exercise that works on your mind, body, and spirit.

On the surface level, yoga sounds similar to Tai Chi. There are many similarities between the two; graceful movements, the benefits that yoga has on physical and mental health, and others.

However, there are several differences as well, particularly in regards to the execution and practice of these disciplines.


Types of Yoga

Just like Tai Chi, there are many different ways in which you can practice yoga. The different styles of yoga have different levels of intensity, different types of movements, and different goals.

If you have ever taken a look at a yoga class schedule, you can easily get confused by the distinct types of yoga.

Here are some of the common types of yoga along with short descriptions on each:

Hatha Yoga

This style of yoga essentially includes all the forms of yoga which are rooted in poses and physical practice. Hatha yoga is the most popular style of yoga especially in the West and its best practiced by beginners.

Iyengar Yoga

This is a more advanced style of yoga that mainly focuses on how each pose shows intricate subtleties of form. In Iyengar yoga classes, you’ll hold the poses for a longer time and go much deeper into your poses than normal when trying to perfect the technique.

Kundalini Yoga

This style of yoga is intensely focused on controlling your breath while doing fast-paced movements repeatedly. Kundalini yoga might also include breathing exercises as well as a vocal element, such as chanting and mantras.

Vinyasa Yoga

This yoga style has really grown in popularity in the past few years. Vinyasa is all about the flow and how your body moves seamlessly as you do various poses in coordination with the breathing. Vinyasa yoga includes other sub-styles of yoga like prana or power yoga.

Bikram Yoga

This yoga style is probably the most popular forms of hot yoga, performed in highly heated rooms. It is designed to help your body sweat profusely so that both your body and mind are challenged.

Bikram classes usually last for 90 minutes and are extremely consistent regardless of where you take your class. However, not all forms of hot yoga are Bikram. Vinyasa yoga or power yoga can be performed in hot yoga studios as well.

The above 5 styles are just the tip of the iceberg. India alone has over a billion people and over the years, many have tried to come up with their own style of yoga.

Also since yoga is now a worldwide practice, you will find different styles of yoga popping up in different corners of the globe.

No matter which style of yoga you prefer, whether it is the intense, cardio-challenging workouts or slow, meditative workouts, you’re likely to find a style that suits you best.


Health Benefits of Yoga

Yoga has been strongly linked to tons of positive outcomes for the practitioner’s mind, body, and soul. The following are some of those benefits:

We are just scratching the surface here; this list goes on and on.

In all honesty, most types of exercise can provide most or all these benefits when done properly and consistently.

However, there are some bogus sources that claim yoga can cure and prevent cancer, so take such with a grain of salt as there is some inaccurate information going around about yoga’s benefits.


Tai Chi vs Yoga: What Are the Major Differences?

When you really get down to it, there’s not much difference between yoga and Tai Chi. Both forms of exercise have well-aligned goals, and both aim to focus the mind, body, and spirit.

However, there are many differences between the two, some of which include the following:

Tai Chi Is a Form of Martial Arts

This is one of the key differences between yoga and Tai Chi. Unlike yoga, Tai Chi was originally developed as a martial art which is why it has a lot of self-defense applications.

Today, most people practice Tai Chi for its meditation, exercise, or spiritual wellness, but the movements and principles can still be used for self-defense purposes.

The application of the techniques also differs.

Moving Through the World vs Solitary Space

With yoga, the main focus is on self-reflection and using your personal space to the maximum. Most yoga classes confine you to your yoga mat.

As such, most people who choose yoga are mostly looking for space and time to reflect inward.

On the other hand, Tai Chi has a strong focus on moving around in the studio and sometimes getting in other people’s personal space. In a typical Tai Chi class, there’s a chance that you’ll be partnered up for 2-person movement.

This may work for some people or be a problem for others. It depends on you.

Tai Chi Has More Flow

Many styles of yoga mainly focus on seamless flow through different movements, but there are usually long pauses in between while you hold poses.

This stillness may be calming for your mind and body and it can also help in building strength, balance, and endurance.

Tai Chi has fewer poses and usually involves different movements flowing seamlessly into each other. It looks a lot like a dance.

Yoga is great for stretch and static flexibility while Tai Chi is more of a dynamic art. Both styles have their own benefits and positive health outcomes, so it’s all down to what you prefer.

Spirituality

The spirituality is more overt in yoga. In a typical yoga class, you’re likely to have guided meditation, self-reflection, mantras, chants, and other activities with spiritual significance. Yoga teachers will include themes and discussions on topics such as love, peace, gratefulness, and others.

In Tai Chi, practitioners are encouraged to be calm, balanced and self-reflective, but it’s less overt with minimal guidance.

On the Floor vs On Your Feet

In general, you spend most of your time in a yoga class on your mat exploring various stretching positions from a prone or sitting position.

In Tai Chi, you will spend most of your time on your feet doing various movements. The only time you get to sit is during the warm-ups and after you’re done.

If you don’t like having to sit on a mat for hours, Tai Chi could be a better choice for you, particularly if you are a senior.


Should You Do Yoga or Tai Chi?

This is ultimately up to you. There’s not much difference between Tai Chi and yoga especially in regards to the overall benefits. In fact, they have a lot more similarities than differences.

They both promote flexibility, strength, balance, and peace of mind. They both have health benefits for your mind, body, and spirit.

If you are stuck trying to choose between the two, here’s what to consider.

You should choose yoga if:

  • you prefer guided reflections or ruminations on spirituality.
  • you are interested in improving static flexibility.
  • You want time and support to create your own mental and physical space.

Take a look around; you’ll likely find a lot of convenient yoga studios around you.

You should choose Tai Chi if:

  • You like to stand on your feet during exercise. Tai Chi movements are usually done standing.
  • You prefer flowing, dynamic, dance-like movements.
  • You like the self-defense/martial arts aspect of Tai Chi.

Finding a good Tai Chi teacher near you can be challenging but if you do, it will be worth it.


Instead of Tai Chi vs Yoga Consider Combining the Exercises

A lot of people suggest that, since yoga and Tai Chi have many similarities, they can be used effectively as complementary disciplines.

Meaning, doing both yoga and Tai Chi either simultaneously or alternating can help you advance in both disciplines at a much faster pace.

This can also be a great idea for those who wish to mix things up. For instance, if you’ve been taking Tai Chi for years and need to try something fresh, try yoga.

It will challenge your balance and muscles like never before which will help you advance your Tai Chi skills in the process.

If you are a seasoned yoga practitioner you can try Tai Chi for a change. It will improve your flexibility and balance in new ways.

Some Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to love about both yoga and Tai Chi. In our fast-paced, technology-based, overworked world, getting the space and time to slow your thought train and reconnect with your body is priceless.

While both disciplines can look deceptively easy and calm, they can give you an amazing workout.

You can never go wrong trying either of them, whether you are trying to lose weight, alleviate back pain, or just improve your health.

However, if you are trying to build muscles or get “jacked”, we do recommend that you use Tai Chi or yoga as a compliment to a regular workout routine.

Whether you choose yoga or Tai Chi, or if you choose to combine them, just make sure that it works for you and that you actually enjoy the fun aspect of it.

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