Tai Chi vs Yoga
By: Tim Franz
I am 70 years old and I started Yoga at age 68, after studying Tai Chi for 30+ years. My key reason for turning to Yoga was to learn something new. After two years of practice, I can say that Yoga changed my life. Tai Chi had become stale and I needed a challenge and Yoga met the need. I still do Tai Chi, but my practice is deeper because of Yoga.
I came to Tai Chi after practicing Kenpo karate and Tai Kwon Do for several years. Unfortunately, injuries to my knees and ribs proved to much for me to continue my practice. I knew of Tai Chi from when I worked in San Francisco. It filled a need and I sought out teachers.
Tai Chi was originally a Chinese martial art. Exactly when it came to be is shrouded in history. Today there are five main styles: Chen, Yang, Wo, Wo/Hao and Sun. From these, many other styles evolved.
The underlying principle of Tai Chi is the Yin/Yang theory, which explains the universe in clear and simple terms. The movements flow from Yin to Yang and vice versa. All forms of Tai Chi demonstrate the waxing and waning of Yin/Yang. The underlying fundamentals are the same regardless of the style.
Yoga is also very old, having started in India. It evolved into many varieties as well. From what I can tell, the various systems are similar but the philosophy of how to join the body and mind differs but it all leads to the same place.
The common aspect of Tai Chi and Yoga is the vital life force. Chinese call it Qi (Chi) and the Indians refer to it as Prana. Breathing is essential for the movement of this life force. Focus on the breath aids in calming the mind, while relaxing the body. Movement in space is common to each as well. Tai Chi movements are continuous while Yoga movements tend to be static.
In Tai Chi, the movement is meant to portray a struggle with an opponent. It is a martial art, so the movements are a series of offensive and defensive movements. Breathing is essential and well-disciplined practitioners can coordinate the breath with the movement. Movements are slow and soft. This is the hallmark of Tai Chi, slowness and soft movements. The goal is to escape into the movement to the exclusion of all external stimuli.
From my experience, Yoga represents a struggle with oneself. The key characteristic of Yoga is the Asana or pose and the mind will create barriers to prohibit the body from fully expressing a pose. There are dozens of poses, some simple while others are very complex. Breathing (Pranayama) while in the pose is essential because it helps focus the mind to overcome barriers that the mind creates. Each pose offers a chance to find stillness.
Tai Chi and Yoga helps strengthen the body and improves balance. Many body systems benefit from practicing either one. Chronic ailments like high blood pressure, fibromyalgia and stress can be relieved. Each are good for the cardio-vascular system.
In general, women tend to gravitate to Yoga, but men are starting to enjoy the benefits. Older people tend to take up Tai Chi because of how it is done.
The learning curve for Tai Chi is quite long. For instance, the traditional Yang form is 108 movements. Just to learn the correct sequence can mean months of practice. Once the sequence is learned, many months are needed to refine the movements. However, there is a simplified form that shortens the learning curve greatly and is much more accessible to more people.
Tai Chi movements are slow and soft, with very low impact on the joints. The sequence is done in an upright position throughout. The slowness is deceiving because the heart and lungs are getting a good work out. Nothing is forced, just slow natural movements. Tai Chi movements can be easily modified to accommodate the person.
Yoga differs because from day one, most people can do many poses without too much difficulty. This is an advantage over Tai Chi. With diligent practice, a person becomes stronger and more flexible while re-shaping the body.
Some Yoga poses are very strenuous and put a great deal of strain on the joints. The idea of pushing the body to its edge tends to cause people to over do it and ignore any pain. Many poses are done on the floor, which can be difficult for some people. Some are difficult for the older person because the body is not will to cooperate.
Folks who are out of shape, overweight and have some chronic medical conditions may be better served starting with Tai Chi and then trying Yoga after their physical condition improves.
The bottom line is Tai Chi and Yoga are excellent forms of exercise for almost any age and level of fitness. Diligent practice will result in a stronger body and the ability to deal with the ups and downs of life.
Today, I continue to practice Tai Chi, but Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga are now part of my health regimen. Occasionally, I will take in a Hatha vinyasa class just to gauge where my fitness is.
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