Tai Chi vs Yoga: Differences, Similarities & Benefits Of Both


At first glance, you may not be able to distinguish between Tai Chi vs Yoga. Both Tai Chi and Yoga are mind and body practices that involve the elements of meditation, exercises, and controlled breathing

Even though yoga is more commonly practiced in the U.S., with the number of practitioners crossing the mark of 34.4 million, tai chi is also picking the pace in terms of popularity, with its practitioners surpassing the 3.76 million mark. 

But don’t let these numbers fool you. In this article, we dive deep into the discussion of tai chi vs yoga to help you know which is best suited for you. 

In this article we will cover:

  • What are the origins of tai chi and yoga?
  • What are the differences between tai chi and yoga?
  • What are the similarities between tai chi and yoga?
  • Benefits of tai chi and yoga
  • Which practice is best for you
a woman wearing white doing tai chi in nature

Tai Chi vs Yoga: Know The Origins

Tai chi and yoga both have fascinating roots and histories. Both practices have existed for many centuries in Asia. 

Before becoming a global phenomenon as the popular physical and mental practice as we know it today, yoga began about 5,000 years ago as Indian philosophy. By the late 1900s, the physical aspect of yoga was made popular, all thanks to key yogis in India.

On the other hand, tai chi is relatively new as compared to yoga. Tai chi dates back to the 1600s, originating in the villages of China. Just like yoga, tai chi has also evolved over time. Its styles include Wu, Yang, and Chen. The martial art was introduced in the U.S. in the 1950s

Tai Chi vs Yoga: 4 Main differences

#1. Different stretching styles involved

Even though both practices are great for improving flexibility, yoga involves deeper muscle stretches. When you perform yoga, you generally hold the targeted stretches for somewhere around 5 to 20 breaths. By doing so, your body starts to open up, and thus, you are able to go deeper. 

Tai chi focuses on moving from one pose to another, and thus, you don’t stop to hold the stretches. This continuous movement promotes blood flow and increases overall mobility. 

someone doing extended child's pose on a yoga mat

#2. The muscles activated and targeted

When we talk about tai chi vs. yoga, the muscles engaged and targeted in these practices also vary. In the case of tai chi, most of the movements practiced are done while standing and thus help build lower body strength.

However, several yoga styles help increase overall body strength. For example, poses like the chin stand and the crow pose help build strength in the shoulders and arms. 

#3. Levels of accessibility

Tai chi involves much gentler movements as compared to more complex poses in yoga like the bow pose and front splits pose

Regardless of fitness ability and age, anyone can practice tai chi. Making it particularly great for older adults with Parkinson’s disease

#4. Way of practicing, use of props and equipment

In the context of the tai chi vs. yoga discussion, yoga poses are typically performed barefoot on a yoga mat. Moreover, additional props like bolsters, blocks, and straps are recommended in many yoga asanas. Conversely, Tai Chi is often practiced wearing footwear and is recommended to be done outdoors in nature.

a woman wearing white doing tai chi in nature

Tai Chi vs Yoga: 4 Main Similarities

#1. Emphasis on breath regulation

When talking about tai chi vs. yoga, both exercises connect the physical aspect of the practice with your breath. Wherein, you inhale one moment and exhale the other. 

Deep abdominal breathing techniques are used in both tai chi vs Yoga, where you breathe in and out with your nose rather than your mouth. This helps to ensure that you are cultivating a full and steady breath to increase your vital life force.

#2. Both are moving meditations

Yoga vs tai chi can both be described as moving meditations owing to their dance-like and fluid moves that are practiced in a careful and mindful manner.

In tai chi, every movement you perform is deliberate and coordinated with the breath to unite the mind and body and thus help you get into a flow-like state. The same is the case with yoga, especially the dynamic styles like sun salutation

a woman doing cobra pose in a park on a purple yoga mat

#3. Help balance the yin and yang energies

Another similarity that the two practices share is the principle of balance. According to Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are the two opposing elements that make up the entire Universe.

In Indian culture, yin and yang are represented by the contrasting Hindu gods, Shiva and Shakti. Where Shiva is masculine energy, and Shakti is feminine. It is because of the union of Shiva and Shakti which resulted in the whole creation. 

The trifecta of tai chi, that is, movement, meditation, and deep breathing, helps balance the yin and yang energy. In yoga, as you practice a pose on both sides, it helps you cultivate yin and yang balance in your body. Since the right side of your body is considered yang, and the left, is yin. 

#4. Both practices help improve the flow of life force

The flowing movement and the breath connection involved in tai chi and yoga help you cultivate vital energy in your body, also known as the “life force.” In tai chi, this energy is known as Qi (chi), and in the case of yoga, it is called Prana

While both the qi and prana refer to the life force within us, there is still a subtle difference between the two. In the context of tai chi vs. yoga, qi can be understood as the internal energy flowing through your bodily organs and system. 

On the contrary, the prana power is developed with the help of deep breathing by breaking up the blockages and strengthening the qi energy on the one hand and cultivating more prana energy on the other. 

Both these practices help you remove emotional blockages, promote health and longevity, and reduce stress levels

a tai chi class practicing together

Tai Chi vs. Yoga: 6 Benefits Of These Practices

Both yoga and tai chi have numerous mental and physical health benefits, which include but are not limited to:

  1. Increasing flexibility
  2. Build muscle strength 
  3. Boost mental health and moods
  4. Helping manage chronic pain
  5. Enhancing cognitive function
  6. Help improve overall balance and mobility

Yoga and tai chi are both really great for improving your overall flexibility and balance. These practices are great for enhancing bodily awareness. According to research, tai chi is good for balance, and yoga is good for flexibility. 

The extensive standing poses involved in tai chi require you to shift your body weight from one leg to another. Such movements help increase your lower body strength, mobility and range of motion

In the context of tai chi vs. yoga, standing, supine, and seated yoga poses help stretch your muscles, leading to better flexibility and range of motion in your body. 

a woman doing an advanced forearm yoga pose on a yoga mat next to a plant

Tai Chi vs. Yoga: Which One To Stick With?

It is true that tai chi and yoga both affect your muscles in very different ways. Despite the difference in the muscle group targeted and engaged, both include breathwork, meditation, and movement. 

So, when it comes to choosing between these two wellness practices, you should consider your preferences and health goals

For older adults, both tai chi and yoga are beneficial to help improve physical and mental health and overall quality of life. But if your primary concern is fall prevention, we suggest you stick to tai chi.

If your health and wellness goals are aligned more toward increasing your range of motion and flexibility, then yoga is the way to go. 

Keeping the tai chi vs. yoga debate aside, you should know that both these practices are beneficial for managing chronic pain and various age-related conditions such as

  • Lower back pain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cognitive impairments such as dementia. 
three women doing tai chi in a park

Tai Chi vs. Yoga: Concluding Remarks

Wellness practices of yoga vs tai chi are both great for the optimal health of the mind and body. These exercises can help you enhance your overall balance and flexibility and relieve stress. If you are a beginner, it is best to start at a slow pace and progress further as you get confident.

Be careful not to force yourself into any position that you are not ready for yet. Movements involved in yoga and tai chi might be challenging, but they shouldn’t hurt you in any way. We recommend that you initially practice under expert supervision. 

To reap the maximal benefit, you can incorporate elements of both these practices in your fitness routine. 

Keep in mind that, ultimately, the best activity is the one that you enjoy and wish to practice for the long term. You may also try to integrate yoga practices for better sleep and cure insomnia

Related Articles: Moving Meditations and More

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Wenlin is a Women’s Well-being Coach, Qigong and Yoga specialist for women and Red School Menstruality Mentor who is passionate about empowering working women to overcome overwhelm to find flow, ease and joy in their life. Wenlin brings with her over 15 years experience working at the intersection of mindfulness, creativity, psychology and wellness, with over 3,000 hours of training and 8 years of experience supporting women across Asia, Europe and the USA. If you want to learn how to find more flow and ease in your life, Wenlin is here to support you.

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