Both Tai Chi and Qigong are ancient practices designed to improve your overall health, fitness, wellbeing, and longevity. Both incorporate the Chinese idea of Qi (or Chi). This is the vital life force energy that travels around your body along pathways known as meridian lines. Both practices incorporate elements of meditation, breathwork, and movement.
What is Qi?
Qi is one of the fundamental beliefs of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that much of the system is based around. It is pronounced chee and is a term used to describe energy in the broadest sense possible.
It is a universal energetic force and encompasses all manifestations of energy. This means that it includes physical beings (your body, the ground under your feet) as well as intangible ones such as light, heat, movement, emotions, and thoughts.
It is believed that life is a gathering of Qi. A healthy individual will contain a harmonious and dynamic makeup of Qi. Qi is neither made nor destroyed. Instead it is in a continuous state of flux, being transformed from one iteration into another.
The idea of Qi links into the concepts of yin and yang. Yin refers to the more material aspects of Qi, or those that are more substantial, solid, cold, cooling, moist, dark, passive, and dormant. Yang is the polar opposite of these. It encompasses immaterial, expanding, light, hollow, ascending, warming, bright, active, and aggressive Qi energies.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is an abbreviation for t’ai chi chüan. It is grounded in Traditional Chinese Medicine and dates back thousands of years. It is a combination of both meditation and martial arts. The idea behind it is that breathwork and rhythmic choreography slow your body and mind to a state of relaxation.
Tai Chi forms
This form of Tai Chi dates back to the 1600s, believed to have been developed by the Chen family in the Chen village.
This form of Tai Chi has a variety of slow and fast movements, incorporating striking, jumping, and kicking motions. Another key movement in Chen Tai Chi is known as silk reeling. This is a flowing and spiralling motion beginning at the toes and flowing up into the hands.
This is the most widely known form of Tai Chi, dating back to the mid-1800s. It is believed to have been developed by Yang Lu-Ch’an, building onto the Chen Tai Chi form.
The main difference between Chen and Yang Tai Chi is that the Yang version is more focused on flexibility and large, sweeping movements. These are performed in a very elegant and slow motion. For this reason, it is typically advised for people of all fitness levels, ages, and genders.
This is the least popular form of Tai Chi, which many put down to the advanced skill level required. It is very nuanced and requires a lot of control of your Qi.
This is another incredibly popular iteration of Tai Chi. The man that developed this form was known as Wu Ch’uan-yu, and he actually trained under Yang.
This form of Tai Chi is centered around extending the body. This can be done by leaning forward and backward, rather than remaining in a centered and immobile position. This form of Tai Chi is great for those who want to work on improving their balance.
This form of Tai Chi was developed by a Confucian and Taoist scholar known as Sun Lutang. He was also highly educated in a number of other forms of Chinese martial arts.
Sun Tai Chi has a lot more footwork incorporated into the practice, paired with a number of silk-reeling and soft hand motions. It is commonly likened to a choreographed, elegant dance.
What is Qigong?
Qigong is a gentle and flowing way of moving your body to achieve certain results. These movements are repeated a number of times in order to focus your mind and relax your body. Some say that Qigong is a type of moving meditation.
The main difference between Tai Chi and Qigong is that in the latter, each move has a specific application. The suffix ‘gong’ means achievement or accomplishment, showing the importance of intention behind the practice.
What are the different types of Qigong?
This dates back to the time of Da Mo and his journey from India to the Shaolin monastery in China. Upon his arrival he realized the monks were adept at meditation but not physically fit. These monks were fighters at heart and martial arts made up a huge element of their meditative training.
The aim of martial Qigong is to develop your Qi to the point where you can use it to protect yourself from incoming strikes, or to inflict as much damage as possible on your opponent.
This is a key branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine alongside the other 3 – acupuncture, herbal medicine, and medicinal massage (acupressure). This practice uses the electromagnetic energy inside and surrounding us all, to restore balance to your body.
Medical Qigong uses physical movements, breathwork, and mental stimulation to restore the balance of Qi in the body.
This is also sometimes referred to as passive Qigong. This practice involves the embracement of yin energy in the body. It is achieved through remaining physically still and mentally trying to cultivate your Qi. It is very similar to traditional meditation.
Martial art v healing
Tai Chi is a martial art, where Qigong is more of a wellness exercise. Both practices incorporate aspects of meditation, although the focus varies between the two.
Qigong places a much greater emphasis on the meditation side, incorporating a lot of breathwork and mindfulness into the movements. In contrast, Tai Chi focuses more on the alignment of the body, with meditation coming secondary.
Qigong dates back centuries and has been practiced throughout the history of China. Almost everyone living in China practices Qigong daily and it is seen in schools, hospitals, and universities. It is also part of the Chinese National Health Plan.
Tai Chi is a much more recent development and was designed to improve combat and self-defence skills. The predation of Qigong to Tai Chi means that many elements of Qigong are interwoven into the Tai Chi practice.
The Tai Chi movements are much more complicated and you will need to put more work in to master each one. It is not uncommon for a single Tai Chi movement to take months to accomplish.
The poses and shapes you must make are clearly defined and your overall posture is just as important as the movements you make. Typically, Tai Chi movements are performed while you are standing.
In Qigong sessions, you will commonly repeat a single movement a multitude of times. Sometimes you will not even need to move, instead being told to focus on your breathwork.
In Qigong sessions, movements and forms are separate from each other. You can choose to supplement your poses with motions as and when you desire. Typically, Qigong movements are performed sitting or lying down.
There is an enormous level of discipline required for Tai Chi practitioners. The positioning and alignment of your joints are all vital to the correct performance of each movement. Qigong is a much less restrictive and free-form exercise. This makes it highly adaptive and suitable for anyone to perform.
Tai Chi practice tends to focus on specific, fixed poses. In Qigong, the forms you undertake are a combination of multiple simplistic movements. Each of these are believed to have specific impacts on the mind and body, as is understood in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Working with Qi
The power in Tai Chi is seen as dense, whereas in Qigong it is light. This makes the practice of Qigong overall less powerful and intricate. The terms Qi and Chi actually have separate meanings in Chinese.
Qi, as we have established, means energy, while Chi means ultimate. This can help you to understand the difference between the two practices.
In Tai Chi, the overall flow of Qi in the body must be harnessed and controlled. This makes it a much more holistic manner of working with Qi. In Qigong, this energy is targeted to specific functions, and you must have a strong level of control here.
Which is better for me to do?
This all comes down to what you aim to achieve from your practice. If you are looking to improve your overall health levels, flexibility, mobility, and balance then Tai Chi is better suited to you. This will also help to improve your philosophical outlook on life.
If you are looking to improve your energy levels and carry out a simplistic but effective range of movements, Qigong is better suited to you.
Now that you have all of the information, you can clearly see the difference between Tai Chi and Qigong. They are closely related practices which can enhance your life and overall health when done properly. For a simplified explanation, Qigong can be seen as the calmer, parent version of Tai Chi.