Yoga vs. Tai Chi – Which Is The Better Choice?

If you are interested in ancient Asian practices like Yoga and Tai Chi, you will be surprised to find out the many differences between the two.

If you are not sure which one to pick, you might want to stick around and learn a little bit more about Yoga vs Tai Chi before making the big decision.

yoga vs. tai chiFrom the outside, it is easy to assume that Tai Chi is just Yoga without the stillness. But the goals and philosophies behind the two practices are quite different.

Let us discuss Yoga first. What we tend to see in Yoga studios is just the tip of the iceberg. In Western countries, the Hatha style is the most popular. This includes the asanas, the pranayama, and the focus on mindfulness.

But the yogi knows that postures, meditation, and breathing techniques are just one way to detach yourself from the daily worries and work towards mindfulness.

There are many ways to reach that state, and the philosophy within Yoga makes the whole practice a little more complex that it lets on.

On the other hand, Tai Chi is actually a primitive form of martial arts. Even though detachment is a part of the Tai Chi practice, it is not one of the central themes.

Tai Chi also has a number of styles for both beginners who are just getting used to the movements to martial artists to experienced practitioners who want to focus on improving the energy flow in their bodies.

The role of the flowing movements is to strengthen the body and improve the circulation of Qi (or Chi).

Ancient Chinese medicine was based on the idea of the vital energy. It was believed that any disruptions to the flow of energy in the body causes illnesses.

But Tai Chi is not the only practice that uses the concept of vital energy. Yoga practitioners also believe the human body has 7 chakras.

From here, things can get a little complicated. Want to find out more? Keep reading. I analyzed the benefits, philosophies, and everyday practice of both Yoga and Tai Chi.

Yoga – the Basics

One of the most popular forms of exercise and meditation, Yoga is loved by many for its positive effects on mental health, flexibility, and strength.

yoga basicsWhen you walk into a Yoga studio, you will soon find out that respect, tolerance, and good manners are mandatory, since they are all part of the Yoga philosophy.

Before we talk about the many styles of Yoga, its benefits, and who can practice yoga, let us dive into the concept of energy in the Yoga practice.

I want to speak about this topic because there is an equivalent of the same energy in Tai Chi. But as you read on, you will find out that Yoga has a different impact, and a different approach, to improving the flow of energy levels.

In the Yoga practice, the term chakra is used to define the energy points in the human body. Certain points are also related to the 4 elements: earth, air, water, and fire.

The chakras in our bodies also influence the way we feel. If the root chakra, which is associated with Earth, is out of balance, we feel unrooted and unsure of our own actions. When the pelvic chakra, which is associated with the water element, is out of balance, we are less adaptable to changes and rigid in our thinking and behavior.

How Yoga Is Practiced

Unlike Tai Chi, the practice of Yoga is focused on holding poses and maintaining stillness.

The asanas, or poses, can be used as powerful tools to sculpt your physique, especially if you choose challenging styles.

You can practice yoga in a studio or in your own home. You do not need any equipment, just a mat and comfortable yet fitting clothing.

There are several types of yoga, but if you are a beginner, the practice of Restorative yoga is advised to help you get used to the poses.

Restorative Yoga uses props to help beginners relax and get acclimated to the basic postures. But this Yoga style is not only for those who are just getting started. Experienced practitioners can engage in this style during days they would rather relax than work out.

Yoga Styles and Uses

Astanga

This Yoga style is popular among practitioners who are driven and motivated in every aspect of their lives. It is quite competitive and is only recommended for those who are already in a good shape. Good shape does not mean you have to wear a certain size. Yoga is all about flexibility and strength. However, this style certainly burns a lot of calories and requires at least 5 sessions per week.

Bikran (Hot Yoga)

Hot Yoga literally means practicing Yoga in a hot room. Bikram is meant to help practitioners who have mobility issues hold poses without injuring themselves. This Yoga style also encourages the detoxification of the body trough sweating.

However, the working out in hot rooms is not recommended for people suffering from hypertension and diabetes.

Hatha

With Hatha you get the best of both worlds, which is why the style is so popular. It allows you to practice both challenging poses and slow down just enough to focus on breathing and meditation, too. This yoga style is also gentle on your joints since the poses are not held for longer than 60 seconds.

Breathing Techniques in Yoga-Pranayama

One of the unique characteristics of Yoga is the many breathing techniques that purify the mind from negative thoughts and enrich the spirit.

pranayamaPranayama does not only involve healthy, controlled breathing techniques that bring more oxygen to our cells and enhances our energy. It also involves controlling the vital force that keeps us alive.

While there are many breathing techniques, each one has four elements: inhalation, internal retention, exhalation, and external retention.

Why should you care about breathing techniques?

First, all of our cells need oxygen to survive. The better we deliver the oxygen to our bodies, the better our bodies function.

Our cognitive abilities and our energy levels are both affected by our breathing habits.

But perhaps the most obvious aspect of breathing is our emotional response. Every time we hear bad news, we take a deep breath to help ourselves recover for the mental distress. Deep breathes serve as our body’s defense mechanism against stress. However, you do not have to limit deep breaths to moments when you receive shocking news. You can also use it to your advantage in order to prevent negative emotions.

What Can You Achieve with Yoga?

There are many benefits to Yoga, from lowering your blood sugar levels to building lean mass and increasing flexibility.

Keep in mind that Yoga is highly customizable. You can search for videos with Yoga poses that help you lose weight and build lean mass, or you can search for poses that help you sleep better.

The practice of Yoga focuses on energy points, or chakras, in your body. This means that there is a pose for almost any problem you might have, from a stiff neck to anxiety.

If you want to be sure that you are getting the best out of your yoga practice, ask a yogi what style you should pick to address your pain points, either physical or emotional.

But in case you were still wondering how Yoga can contribute to your well-being, I put together a short list of benefits that come with regular Yoga practice:

● Increased flexibility
● Chronic pain relief
● Lower blood sugar levels
● Lower blood pressure levels
● Increased strength
● Lean mass growth
● Weight loss
● Better focus
● Improved cognitive abilities
● Peace of mind
● Improved blood flow

Is yoga a spiritual experience? Can I benefit from Yoga if I am not interested in spirituality?

While they are many who choose Yoga because of the spirituality and philosophy involved, no yoga studio will try to push spirituality on you.

The poses alone can help you get great workout, and if you decide that you are interested in tolerance, mindfulness, and meditation, it is up to you to take it further. But you can always treat Yoga like a workout.

You can definitely benefit from Yoga without diving in the spiritual dimension of it.

Tai Chi

If you ever wanted to take a martial arts class but were afraid you would not live up to expectations, Tai Chi might be perfect for you.

tai chiFew people know that Tai Chi is actually a martial art because of the peaceful and calming movements. If you want to learn how to fight without seeing yourself in a room filled with aggressive faces, read on.

Both Yoga and Tai Chi focus on relaxing and strengthening the body. However, unlike Yoga, Tai Chi teaches practitioner to look outward, not inward, and adapt to their environment.

In Yoga, you are alone with you mat, but in Tai Chi, there are movements that require two people. Another important aspect of this Chinese practice is the character of the movements.

The goal of Tai Chi is to stimulate the individual’s Chi, but the vital energy cannot be stimulated with unnatural movements, or by forcing the body to perform poses that are otherwise “unnatural” or not useful in everyday life.

All of the movements you see in the Tai Chi practice are actually defense and attack moves.

The gracious and flowing movements help the martial artist blend in with their environment and block negative emotions as well as stresses that show up before battle.

Today, Tai Chi is loved by both children and elders. You can practice Tai Chi without having to take part in explosive movements. Depending on the style you choose, you can either do a relaxing workout or one that teaches you how to master your emotions.

You have probably seen the Yin and Yang symbol before. In the Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are neither bad nor good, but rather a perfect balance is required for optimal performance. Like Yoga, Tai Chi has its own philosophy that focuses on balancing these two forces.

This concept translates to the practice of Tai Chi through movement. One leg holds most of your weight while the other is passive. This serves as a projection of the duality symbolized by the concept of yin and yang.

Another way to look at the yin-yang balance in your body is to identify which side of your body is vulnerable and which side is covered.

Chi Meridians and Healing

The energy meridians from acupuncture are the same as the meridians Tai Chi practitioners believe in. They believe that each organ has its own channel of vital energy from which fuel comes from. This belief serves as the foundation of Tai Chi, as all the movements are meant to improve the flow of Chi in the body.

Tai Chi Styles

While all Tai Chi styles will improve your health through smooth circular movements, there are 5 styles to choose from depending on your health goals and fitness level.

1. Yang

The most popular style in the Western world, the Yang style focuses on fluid, slow movements. If you are watching a group practicing Tai Chi, you are probably witnessing the Yang style.

The moves are meant to help you relax and increase your awareness of your own body while improving your chi flow.

The Yang style can be a bit challenging to learn, as there are a little over 100 moves meant to strengthen and stimulate each area of your body.

2. Wu

The Wu style focuses on small, slow movements that create pressure trough opening and closing your joints.

The deep stretches help release tension from the problem areas and improve flexibility while decreasing your risk of injury.

The Wu style is perfect for the elderly as well as beginners, or just for those who do not want an intense workout but would rather prioritize meditation instead.

3. Chen

This style is usually more appealing to the younger crowd as well as martial artists since the movements are a little bit more complex and the slow motions are combined with explosive moves.

Finding a Tai Chi instructor in the Chen style can be difficult since only 1% of Tai Chi practitioners use this style to maintain their health and well-being.

4. Hao

The Hao style is very hard to find in Western society, simply because all of the movements are very subtle. The focus is on the internal movements that stimulate Chi. At a first glance the Hao Tai Chi practitioner might look like they are not doing much.

Hao is perhaps the most challenging style. It is also hard to appreciate the true value of the style without a deep understanding of Tai Chi.

5. Mix and Match

The last style mixes and matches the other styles freely and is recommended to practitioners who are injury-free and can benefit from the benefits of all of the styles mentioned above.

In one session, you could start warming up with the Wu style and close the session with fast, explosive movements from the Chen style.

Breathing Techniques in Tai Chi

Tai Chi also looks at oxygen as a vital energy that enters the body and helps us survive. This is why breathing is usually synchronized with the movements.

All of the Tai Chi movements focus on balance. This means you will have one “open” movement (e.g., arms up) and one “closed” movement (e.g., arms down).

During the open movements you take the air in, hold it, and release it when you reach the closed movement.

For example, when your arms reach the top, you take a deep breath and conceptualize the air you take in as energy that feeds your body. When your arms do down, release the energy.

And now, here are some breathing rules that will help you get the most out of a Tai Chi session:

  • Breath using only your nose
  • Exhale longer than you inhale
  • Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth when practicing
  • Aim for long breaths with no breaks in between

While breathing is important in Tai Chi, it is not as important as it is in Yoga. You do not have to keep an eye on your breathing all the time. Instead, learn to do the movements properly, and the correct breathing pattern will follow.

Tai Chi Benefits

Tai Chi is known at the “ultimate fist” or “moving meditation” due to the nature of the practice. It is both relaxing and useful in combat.

Practiced regularly, Tai Chi can help you burn more calories, increase flexibility, and build lean mass, depending on the intensity of the session.

To get an idea of how the ancient Chinese practice can help improve your life, I have compiled a short list of the biggest benefits:

  • A healthier heart
  • Healthier joints and increased flexibility
  • Improved posture
  • Improved stress management
  • Improved self defense skills

Now that we have analyzed both competitors, let us take a look at the similarities and differences between the two and find out which one is best for your body.

Is Tai Chi a Spiritual Experience? Can I Benefit from It If I Do Not Believe in Yin and Yang?

Stripping away the concepts of balance, elements, and energy, Tai Chi can still bring you the same benefits. You do not have to study Chi meridians or feel uncomfortable with your own beliefs to get the most out of the practice. In the end, smooth and explosive moves followed by correct breathing techniques provide many benefits.

Similarities Between Yoga and Tai Chi

Beyond the fact that both practices promise a sense of well-being and promote a stoic attitude towards life, here is a quick look at the most obvious traits Yoga and Tai chi share:

  • Both practices promote breathing techniques used with poses or movements
  • Both practices are highly-customizable and injury-friendly
  • A large variety of movements or poses can help practitioners no matter their size, gender, or age
  • Recommended to people suffering from heart disease
  • Both improve posture and increase flexibility
  • Both can lead to weight loss and lean mass building
  • The link between mind and body is a major theme in both practices

Differences Between Yoga and Tai Chi

Here comes the good part: Yoga and Tai Chi have opposite views of how you can create harmony between the mind and body.

While both practices agree on the fact that the mind-body union is important, they do have different ways of reaching that state and finding the truth.

Here is a look at the main differences between Yoga and Tai Chi:

  • Yoga focuses on stillness whereas Tai Chi is all about smooth movements
  • Yoga has chakras and in Tai Chi has meridians with chi
  • Yoga focuses on “forced” poses whereas Tai Chi avoids movements that are not used in our daily lives or for self defense
  • Yoga is a form of exercise and meditation whereas Tai Chi is a martial art

There are still many things to be said about both practices, but I hope that I have helped you understand the basics and make a final decision about which one suits your lifestyle and needs.

Yoga vs Tai Chi – Which Is the Big Winner?

Yoga and Tai Chi have some things in common, but they are hard to compare, since one is a form of exercise and meditation while the other is a primitive form of martial arts.

I am going to let you decide what you want the most, strength development or a light cardio exercise?

While it is obvious that both practices can build lean mass, Yoga is by far more intense on your muscles than Tai Chi.

On the other hand, if you always wanted to learn how to defend yourself, Tai Chi could be the perfect practice for you. Not only can everyone learn Tai chi, but it also comes with most of the benefits Yoga has to offer.

Did you benefit from this article? Did I miss anything? Any feedback or suggestions would be appreciated – please post in the comments and I will personally respond!

Marcus Stone

Marcus Stone

Soon after graduating college with a degree in Journalism, Marcus decided to pursue his love for yoga and traveled to Rishikesh, India to complete his RYS 500 yoga teacher training. Marcus wants people to know that yoga is for everyone – no matter your race, gender, age, or physical ability. >> Read More
Marcus Stone

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2017-11-12T16:21:51+00:00

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