You’ve heard of both tai chi and yoga’s benefits to your long-term health. But, since they seem so similar, you may wonder how they differ.
Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that has been adopted across the world as a way to exercise both the mind and body. Yoga is a practice for improving mental and physical health that originated in India before gaining worldwide acceptance.
As you can see, the two have many similarities but some distinct differences. Let’s get into what those differences are precise.
Tai Chi vs Yoga: How we’ll compare them
To compare tai chi and yoga, we’ll look at 6 key areas. While these areas will not determine whether one or the other is better, they will help you understand their differences. This will help if you struggle to decide which one is for you.
- Health benefits
Anyone can take advantage of the many health benefits of tai chi practice. The basic movements can be adapted to accommodate many skill and health levels. Some of them can include:
- Stress relief
- Improved sleep quality
- Improved balance
- Weight loss
- Benefits of meditation
- Whole body exercise
- Reduces arthritis symptoms
Though the list could go on, these are the significant benefits of tai chi. Tai chi can seem quite simple from the outside, especially in the beginning stages. Yet practitioners will exercise their entire body since tai chi movements involve flowing through forms. This leads to a host of positives, as briefly listed above.
These benefits can be achieved because tai chi focuses on breathing techniques as the individual goes through the movements. This combination can help create a meditative state. With each factor working together, the practitioner can reap physical, mental, and emotional benefits.
The health benefits of yoga can similarly extend beyond the physical. That said, it comes with plenty of physical benefits as well. Some of the significant benefits include:
- Improved flexibility
- Stress reduction
- Better metabolism
- Slight strength improvement
- Improved balance
Yoga practitioners can reach these benefits no matter where they are starting. The exercises can start small for those who are remarkably inflexible. Over time, individuals will be able to reach poses they thought impossible.
Yoga has been observed to help practitioners improve their overall health through the above benefits. It can help increase mindfulness in other areas of life as well. This can take the form of healthier eating habits and self-image.
How They Compare
The main difference comes from each practice’s style and the intensity level within each style. Yoga and tai chi have many more or less intense types. The more intense types will bring more physical benefits such as cardiovascular health and muscle growth.
The style difference leads yoga to have more significant benefits on flexibility. On the other hand, tai chi tends to have better holistic bodily benefits, such as those gained from aerobic conditioning. Both focus on breathing techniques such as deep breathing and can improve an individual’s natural rhythm.
One of the best ways to define the style of tai chi is to talk about its focus on flowing movements. Tai chi has its roots in martial arts, which is shown in the forms.
When you practice tai chi, your forms should flow from one movement to the next and usually involve most major muscle groups. Tai chi exercises should be full of fluid movements instead of breaking movements into specific positions.
For example, Chen tai chi uses many jumps and kicks you would find in other martial styles. This type of tai chi is less accessible to those unaccustomed to martial arts as it provides a greater focus on muscle strength. Yang tai chi, on the other hand, is much more accessible.
Regarding yoga, the focus is on individual muscle groups and physical postures. The yoga style is centered around holding poses. There is often less focus on muscular strength in most styles of yoga. There are other forms of yoga, some of which are more muscle intensive. Power yoga is one such example.
However, yoga tends to focus on stretching specific areas of the body. Each pose has a particular purpose and goal. Yoga also makes use of more material aids than tai chi. The yoga mat has become easily identifiable throughout the world. Other tools include bolsters, blocks, and straps.
How They Compare
These two practices focus on overall mobility but go about it differently. Both tai chi and yoga classes can feel like a workout at the end. The style differences can lead to common focuses unique to tai chi or yoga, making it easy to find certain emphasized aspects.
That said, what’s important here is a personal preference. You can find several yoga styles closer to tai chi and vice versa. If you want to focus on one aspect, you can do it with either style. All it takes is finding the right instructor for you.
Tai chi originated as a martial art in ancient China in the 1100s. Much of the history is contested, but one commonality is the importance of a Taoist monk by the name of Zhang Sanfeng. This monk is said to be either the creator of tai chi or, at the very least crucial to its origin.
According to legend, Zhang Sanfeng gathered inspiration from various animals. From these animals, he learned the efficacy of what is often referred to as soft techniques. In the centuries since then, many styles of tai chi have developed. Some popular styles are Chen, Wu, Hao, Sun, and Yang.
Yoga originated in India thousands of years ago. The exact origin is uncertain, but it is mentioned in the Rig Veda, which originated somewhere in the range of 1500 BCE to 1200 BCE. Because it is so old, it is hard to determine a founder or starting point. Some traditions hold that the god Shiva was the first to practice yoga.
Like tai chi, yoga has spread worldwide and developed many styles. One primary style is Hatha yoga which covers several other styles. Some styles focus more on philosophy, while others focus on the physical.
How They Compare
Both of these practices have rich histories that cannot be explored quickly. What unites them despite their different origins is their purpose. Both create a deep connection between mind, body, and spirit.
Though not all tai chi instructors will include it in classes, tai chi is steeped in the concept of Yin and Yang. This concept, based on Taoism, details the importance of balance between the two. Yin is represented by water, while yang is represented by fire.
Even when it is not discussed, this concept influences all aspects of tai chi. By practicing tai chi, individuals are fostering their physical and metaphysical balance.
Yoga follows Indian philosophy as that is where it primarily developed. It focuses on the union of mind, body, and spirit. This is explored by looking inwards to find the inner self. Through yoga, practitioners strive to find their true selves.
Additionally, there are many ties between yoga and Hinduism. The parts of yoga that can be disconnected from Hinduism are the parts that are just physical practice.
How They Compare
Tai chi is more physically oriented than yoga. Both have their physical and philosophical aspects, but tai chi is first and foremost a martial art. That said, it all depends on your instructor’s training. It is often easier to sell the physical practice than the spiritual.
You can get into either tai chi or yoga without learning anything about the philosophy if you choose. However, this harms the richness of both practices.
It can be challenging for Westerners to practice Eastern philosophies like these–especially if the individual has had no interaction before. It is worth trying when attempting these practices as the philosophy can heighten the experience.
The average tai chi class can cost between $15 to $50. This is usually per class, but some instructors offer memberships ranging from $10 to $15 monthly. Online classes are similar in price.
Other options include video guides which are often a one-time purchase. Alternatively, you can pay for private instruction, which will be more. Some places host free lessons if it is popular enough. Check local recreation centers for tai chi classes, both free and paid.
Yoga class is often by the hour. The price can range between $15 and $25 an hour. Since most classes go over an hour, it adds up. Monthly membership costs upwards of $100-200 are also an option for yoga.
There are plenty of online resources for yoga, both paid and free. Prerecorded videos will be cheaper than live online classes.
How They Compare
In most cases, yoga is more expensive due to its more significant popularity. This isn’t always true as it depends on the area. Luckily, it is possible to find free materials for both. These are best for trying the two systems without spending money.
For the best experience, find a class even if it is expensive. A good teacher will make it worthwhile for all practitioners.
Each tai chi class will be slightly different. It depends significantly on the instructor. If a tai chi instructor follows more of the philosophy behind tai chi, that is what they will implement. Another set of important factors is the fitness levels of the students. Tai chi can be more or less martial, depending on whether the students can perform the advanced forms.
Classes can be either outside or inside as tai chi does not require any props. They can last for as little as half an hour to an entire hour on average. Individuals can find the class style that works best for them.
Yoga teachers are also very influential in the form that class takes. For example, some will play music during a session, while others prefer absolute quiet outside of instruction. Like tai chi, yoga can be adapted to allow less flexible or fit individuals to practice.
Yoga workouts can be inside or outside though they are usually inside. Classes typically last for an hour to an hour and a half. Lessons are seldom longer, but some are shorter.
How They Compare
Although they sound similar, tai chi and yoga classes will look different. Again it comes back to the styles. When a group is practicing tai chi, it can almost look like dancing. Yoga, on the other hand, is more poses and stretching. Both tai chi and yoga share a focus on deep breathing.
Ultimately, tai chi and yoga have many similarities but significant differences. If you want to be healthier, you will find many similar benefits. The gentle movements of each can improve your physical health more than it would initially appear. Weight loss is just one possibility. Since the movements are so gentle even, most older adults can join.
The breathing exercises in both will promote meditation which comes with many positives. The list is long, from boosting your immune system to reducing anxiety symptoms and blood pressure. Best of all, you can try gentler forms and still get the full benefits.
While history and philosophy are perhaps less of the focus regarding the practice of either style, they can influence many forms and aspects. When you go through the movements of either one, you are participating in centuries of history.
What makes tai chi and yoga different may have a difference in what you practice, or it may not. What is worth considering is whether you are getting all you can out of either one.
Tai chi vs. yoga is not meant to put one down while boosting the other. On the contrary, both are great ways to exercise, improve balance, and enrich your life.