Yoga and tai chi are both ancient mind-body practices that share quite a few similarities. For one, they both originate from Asia; yoga is a practice from ancient India, and tai chi originates from ancient China.
More than that, these two practices offer many similar benefits when it comes to one’s physical, spiritual, and mental well-being. Both yoga and tai chi improve your strength and balance while strengthening your mind at the same time. That said, they are the best holistic exercises that can help improve all aspects of your health.
However, the fundamental characteristics of tai chi vs yoga make them vastly different. In today’s article, we will delve into the differences between yoga and tai chi. Then, we’re going to help you determine which practice is better for you by highlighting the benefits of each.
Plus, we will let you in on how you can get started with either yoga or tai chi.
Yoga vs Tai Chi: What Is The Difference?
Yoga and tai chi require a lot of breath work, balance, and smooth-flowing movements. However, there are quite a few differences when it comes to their origins and execution. To better determine which practice is the most suitable one for you, let’s take a look at the characteristics of tai chi vs yoga:
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is a 5,000-year-old practice that originated in ancient India. The central goals of yoga are to build harmony in one’s body, mind, and environment; achieve a higher sense of self-awareness, and improve all aspects of health, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
The secondary goals of yoga are to improve one’s flexibility, strength, and balance. Simultaneously, yoga improves your mental state by helping you battle stress, increase focus, and have a higher level of mental endurance. Learn more about what yoga does to your body and mind in our related blog post.
When it comes to the practice itself, yoga involves a lot of meditation, breathing techniques, and, of course, yoga poses. Each yoga pose is centered on a goal. That can be to improve balance, stretch out key muscles, or put one in a relaxed state of mind.
There are many different types of yoga. The most common ones are hatha yoga, which includes all the traditional aspects of yoga; vinyasa yoga, a type of yoga that focuses on connecting breath to movement, and ashtanga yoga, which is designed to relax the mind while increasing one’s physical endurance.
Aside from the main types of yoga, there are a lot of variations that have been developed over the years. A few examples include hot yoga, power yoga, and restorative yoga, among many others.
The intensity and duration of yoga depend on the type of yoga you are doing. Some types of yoga are more intense, such as power yoga and Bikram yoga. On the other hand, some types tend to be more relaxed. When it comes to the duration of a yoga session, each style varies from class to class. But a single yoga class typically lasts about 45-60 minutes.
What Is Tai Chi?
In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are the two elements that make up the universe. In order to be healthy, it is believed that a person’s yin and yang have to be in balance, and tai chi helps maintain that balance. Many people who practice tai chi also believe that it helps the flow of vital energy (“qi”) in the body.
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that can be traced back to the 1600s. Just like yoga, tai chi involves both mental and physical practices at the same time. However, tai chi is performed in a gentle, martial-arts form that looks much like a dance, whereas yoga involves holding poses for a certain amount of time.
In addition, tai chi incorporates self-defense principles in its movements. Although these movements look gentle, you can use the poses to defend yourself if someone attacks you from the front or behind. There are five different types or styles of tai chi:
Each style offers a varying approach to the art of tai chi. For example, Chen involves a combination of slow and then fast movements, including jumping, striking, and kicking. Yang, the most popular style of tai chi, focuses more on improving flexibility. It does this by incorporating large, sweeping movements that are performed in a gentle and graceful motion.
Yoga vs Tai Chi: Which Is Better For You?
Now that you know more about yoga vs tai chi, which should you go with? Both yoga and tai chi offer benefits for one’s physical and mental health. To really help you decide which practice is the best one for you, let’s discuss the benefits of tai chi vs yoga in deeper detail:
Benefits Of Yoga Practice
Practicing yoga can help improve your strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance. For instance, some yoga poses require you to hold your entire body weight up on a select group of muscles, which, in turn, helps strengthen those muscles over time. More than that, there are also yoga poses that encourage you to strengthen your muscles as far as they will go, which is a great way to increase your flexibility.
Furthermore, doing yoga can help improve your mental health as well. The main reason for this is that meditation is an integral part of yoga. Meditation is a technique that involves focusing on one thing and blocking everything else out. When done right, meditation can help clear your mind, get rid of your negative thoughts, and increase your focus.
Considering all these benefits, yoga is said to help alleviate and prevent certain illnesses–both physical and mental. For example, many people find yoga to be a great way to relieve their pain from arthritis due to all the stretching involved.
Yoga is also known as an amazing stress reliever, as well as an effective method to ease depression and anxiety. This is why many people incorporate yoga into their lifestyles as a way to remain stress-free and level-headed.
Benefits Of Tai Chi Practice
Tai chi is a low-impact exercise that is known to improve coordination, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility. It can also help you gain better balance, especially for the tai chi styles that involve a lot of large, sweeping movements.
Apart from that, tai chi is believed to help with the exchange of gases in the lungs; the function of the digestive system, as well as pain and stiffness. This is part of the reason why tai chi is especially helpful for older adults, even though tai chi is a great practice for all ages.
Tai chi is also beneficial for one’s mental health, mainly because it involves a lot of meditation and breathing, just like yoga. When you regularly practice tai chi, you may find it easier to manage your stress, calm your emotions, and maintain focus in day-to-day life.
A unique benefit of tai chi is that involves a self-defense element, and this is because it is done in a martial arts style. While tai chi may not be rigorous, training your body to hold self-defense poses can help you protect yourself in a pinch.
So – Which Is Better For You?
As you can see, yoga and tai chi are almost identical when it comes to the benefits that they offer. Both can be intense or low-impact, complicated or gentle. So, the style of yoga or tai chi that will work best for you depends on your fitness level and ultimately, your preferences.
All that said, the perfect practice will depend on whether you want to do poses or a martial arts practice. If you still can’t decide the best choice between yoga vs tai chi, we highly recommend trying both to see which one you like best.
How To Get Started With Yoga or Tai Chi
Now that you know the differences and similarities of yoga vs tai chi, let’s move on to some tips to help you get started regardless of which practice you choose:
Both yoga and tai chi have easier variations that are perfect for beginners. For yoga, we recommend starting with hatha yoga, which involves slow, basic movements that are gentle on the body.
For tai chi, on the other hand, Yang, Wu, and Hao styles are considered the easiest to learn, so we suggest you start there.
Whichever practice you choose, avoid rushing into it. In this way, you can minimize the risk of overextending your muscles and getting injured.
Try Out Different Styles and Instructors
There are dozens of variations for yoga and five for tai chi. It might take a bit of trial and error before you can find the style that you really like. Hence, make it a point to try out different styles to see which one you like best. Similarly, we recommend trying multiple classes to find an instructor that best fits your needs.
Don’t be afraid to customize your yoga or tai chi experience. If one class or style did not give you a satisfying experience, try more and more classes and instructors until you find the perfect one.
Wear The Right Clothes
Both tai chi and yoga involve a lot of large movements. That said, it is best to wear workout clothes that you feel most comfortable in. Loose tops, flexible yoga pants, sweatpants, and sports bras are some of the most common attire for these two practices. If you want to wear something a little bit different, just make sure it’s appropriate for the studio.
When it comes to footwear, yoga is usually done without shoes. Tai chi, on the other hand, is typically done with flat shoes to prevent the practice from affecting your posture. You can also do tai chi in bare feet if you want; it all depends on your preferences (unless the floor is very cold).
Invest in a Quality Mat
Yoga is mostly performed on a yoga mat, whereas most tai chi is done on your feet. However, there are some tai chi movements that may require a yoga mat. Either way, we recommend investing in a high-quality yoga mat to make all of your yoga or tai chi lessons comfortable and pain-free.
Learn With an Instructor
If you are learning yoga or tai chi for the first time, it can be difficult to know whether or not you’re doing it right without the help of a trained instructor. With that being said, it’s a good idea to sign up for classes when you’re just starting out. In this way, you can learn faster and, more importantly, reduce the risk of injuring yourself when practicing on your own.
If you’re not comfortable doing yoga or tai chi in a group setting, consider signing up for a private class at least for the first few times. One-on-one sessions are common in studios, gyms, and leisure centers.
Final Thoughts On Tai Chi vs Yoga
The benefits of tai chi and yoga are all almost the same; both of these practices help strengthen your body and–at the same time–your mind. Hence, they are both considered the best mind-body practices that we know of today.
However, the difference lies in how these practices are performed. Tai chi is done in a martial arts style akin to a dance, while yoga involves a series of poses that are held for a longer period of time. That said, it all depends on which style you want to practice, as well as the philosophies that you prefer to follow.
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