Both yoga and Tai Chi are very popular. They combine the benefits of increased physical strength and balance with improved relaxation and mental calm. Yoga practice includes many poses performed in place, focusing on the breath and on calmness through meditation. In contrast, Tai Chi is more movement-based, building coordination, balance and focus.
Are you trying to figure out which is better for you in more detail? Read on to help you make that choice.
Yoga vs Tai Chi: Key Similarities
Both Yoga and Tai Chi originate in the East. While Yoga emerged in India thousands of years ago, Tai Chi has been practiced in China for hundreds of years.
With greater exchange between the East and the West in the 20th century, Yoga and Tai Chi teachers started to spread their knowledge. Western students quickly picked up this knowledge and developed it further.
In essence, both Tai Chi and Yoga are body-mind practices that generate well-being at the physical, mental and emotional level.
Both practices are beneficial for people with limited fitness or underlying health conditions. They are also suited for older people requiring strengthening and better balance.
Yoga and Tai Chi also are great alternatives for people who want to balance more strenuous forms of exercise such as running or weight lifting.
In general, they are both ideal for people preferring a gentler exercise regime in general.
Yoga vs Tai Chi: Key Benefits
Many key benefits are shared by both Yoga and Tai Chi, including:
- Improved strength, balance, and flexibility
- A sense of calm and relaxation
- Improved posture
- Better joint health and mobility
- Improved levels of anxiety and depression
- Increased cardiovascular health
- Benefits for healthy aging
Yoga vs Tai Chi: Key Differences
Modern historians estimate that Yoga is some 5000 years old. Many amazing masters helped developed the practice over the generations.
At its heart, Yoga is a blend of physical, mental, and spiritual practices. All are considered equally important.
Today, Yoga is one of the fastest-growing trends and you will find Yoga schools in most major places throughout the world.
A typical Yoga session includes a sequence of carefully chosen poses, combined with breathing and meditation practice.
Each pose serves a specific function designed to strengthen and stretch the physical body, keep internal organs healthy, promote elimination, generate energy and calm the nervous system.
Students practice Yoga standing, on the floor, or seated on a chair. Each pose is held for several breaths before moving to the next one. Some schools, like Yin Yoga, hold poses for longer to achieve deeper stretching.
Each Yoga practice session is different. It may be of a general nature, focus on something like greater hip or back flexibility, or aim just to relax and calm the mind.
Depending on students’ fitness levels and needs, sequences can be very gentle or energetic.
Today, there are many different Yoga styles and schools in the East and West. Each caters to a wide range of students and different abilities.
Examples of high-energy Yoga styles include Hot/Bikram Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, or Power Yoga. Yin, Restorative and Slow Yoga classes tend to be much more gentle and adaptable to lower fitness and ability levels.
Below is an example of a beginner Yoga session for students of average ability/mobility.
Tai Chi originated in China as a form of martial arts or self-defense system. The word Tai Chi translates as “shadow boxing”, reflecting this original purpose.
While the martial arts element of Tai Chi has been largely abandoned in Western practice, it is retained in spirit.
The slow and coordinated flow of Tai Chi promotes the flow of “qi” or internal energy, generating strength, focus, energy, as well as a sense of wellbeing and calm.
Tai Chi is practiced at a slow pace. Therefore, it is generally suitable for people who are not fit, older, or for people who have less mobility or joint problems.
Tai Chi has several different schools of practice to suit students of different interests, abilities, and fitness.
Below is an example of a beginner 5-minute Tai Chi practice class for beginners.
Yoga vs Tai Chi: Which Is Better?
Both practices deliver many similar benefits. It is then, perhaps, not so much a case of which is better but which will suit you more in terms of personality and ability.
Let’s just have a look again at both practices from this perspective.
If you prefer to stay on your feet – especially if you find it difficult to get down on the floor and up again – then Tai Chi might be better for you. Similarly, if you like movement better than stillness and meditation, Tai Chi is a good option.
If you are particularly interested in achieving better balance and reduce the risk of falls, then Tai Chi again is a better way to go.
Tai Chi can be quite social because you are moving all the time into each others’ space, creating interaction. It is also great for practicing out of doors during the warmer seasons.
Bear in mind that Tai Chi does take some time to learn. It includes unusual moves that require attention to detail, coordination, and balance. The different sequences have to be learned and memorized.
While this is great for building your memory, it can also be frustrating if that is an issue.
Regular practice is therefore essential. However, as the introductory Tai Chi video above shows, even a very short daily Tai Chi practice will deliver great benefits.
Not all places offer Tai Chi classes. However, there is a growing number of Tai Chi courses on the internet as well as free videos on YouTube, if you would prefer to learn Tai Chi at home.
If you prefer privacy, stillness, and introspection – then Yoga may be a better choice for you, with its focus on relaxation and mental calm.
Yoga is easier to learn than Tai Chi as you don’t have to remember entire sequences. You practice pose by pose, with the time taken to learn each properly.
Be aware that some Yoga classes can be very challenging. Therefore, be careful which class you join. Choose Yoga classes that are slow or gentle, or are beginner Hatha, Yin, or Restorative Yoga classes.
If you struggle with strength, energy, or mobility, start with chair Yoga. Chair Yoga is a great entry point for people who are worried about physical challenges. You can always move on to more difficult classes as you develop skills and strength.
As with Yoga, even a few minutes of Tai Chi a day can make a big difference.
Yoga classes are available almost everywhere, both through local yoga studios and community centers.
In addition, there are many opportunities to learn Yoga online, both free on Youtube and by paid subscription.
Can You Do Both Yoga And Tai Chi?
Both yoga and tai chi offer many similar benefits. Can you gain anything extra by practicing both?
Experienced students of both Yoga and Tai Chi say that one practice complements the other. They even say that significant progress in one is not possible without the other.
For example, practicing both Yoga and Tai Chi enables plateaus in each to be overcome more easily. Together, they enable better body alignment and promote the flow of qi or life force.
The improved muscle strength and flexibility generated by yoga supports the movement created by Tai Chi. In turn, the practice of learning sequences of movement in Tai Chi makes the same much easier in yoga.
These are intriguing facts that no doubt will vary for each practitioner. However, they are evidence that practice of both yoga and Tai Chi delivers enhanced benefits for both.
Bear in mind that both Tai Chi and yoga require concentration, stamina, and also time. So doing both on the same day may not be ideal – but doing them on alternate days should work just fine.
So, what is it to be? The final word about Yoga vs Tai Chi
Yoga and Tai Chi deliver quite similar benefits based on an Eastern philosophical model of body-mind connection.
They do this in quite different ways; Yoga through sequences of poses, breathing, and meditation, and Tai Chi through slow, controlled movements and focus.
Both are very gentle forms of exercise that can be practiced by just about anyone, but both have the potential to be practiced at a much tougher level, too.
The choice of which one is better for you is very individual. It relies on your personal preferences, abilities, and needs – such as whether you prefer stillness and introspection (Yoga) or whether you are more into movement and focus (Tai Chi).
Still confused? The best way forward often is to give each a go and make your choice based on your experience. Be sure to choose classes or online videos that are suitable for beginners – and there are many options to choose from these days.