Yoga and Qigong are both ancient practices that have been practiced for thousands of years for physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Let’s dive into some in-depth information on Yoga vs Qigong. In this article, you’ll learn about:
- History, Roots & Origins Of Both Practices
- Yoga Qigong: Similarities And Differences
- Yoga Qigong: How One Complements The Other
- Subtle Body In Yoga & Qigong
- Yoga vs Qigong: Is One Better Than The Other?
Yoga & Qigong: Two Practices for Wholeness
Both Yoga and Qigong are rooted in the belief of a vital life force energy that permeates, drives, and animates all beings and processes around us.
In Yoga, this life force energy is called Prana, while in Qigong this life force energy is called Qi 气. Yoga means ‘to yoke’ or ‘unite’ with all, while Qigong 气功 means ‘energy cultivation’.
Both Qigong and Yoga are also umbrella terms that respectively refer to a wide range of practices. Each respectively includes the practice of physical postures, breath techniques, and meditation, designed to cultivate and promote the flow of vital life force energy.
The objective of these practices in Yoga and Qigong is to support health, well-being through internal union within each individual (body, mind, spirit), and union of each individual with the greater whole.
History, Roots & Origins Of Both practices
Both Yoga and Qigong originated in the East. Yoga is believed to have originated in India at over 5,000 years ago, while Qigong can be traced to China and is at least 4,000 years old.
Yoga has its roots in Indian Vedic scriptures such as the Rig Veda, while Qigong came from Chinese Daoism. Both Yoga and Qigong began as spiritual practices, but later respectively went through shifts as they modernized.
Originating in India, Yoga was brought to the West by Swami Vivekananda, who first came to the United States of America in 1883. He translated Yogic texts from Sanskrit into English and organized world conferences, describing Yoga as a “science of the mind”.
Later, prominent teachers like T.K.V. Desikachar, son of Sri Krishnamacharya, brought their teachings to the United States and contributed to the continued rise of Yoga in America.
The earliest forms of Qigong were practiced by Daoist priests and shamans, and called Dao Yin 导引, as portrayed in the the Ma Wang Dui Silk texts map excavated from the tombs in Changsha, Hunan province in China.
Later, under the ruling government of Mao Zedong in 1950s China, Qigong’s roots with Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism were severed. Instead, Qigong was promoted as a health preservation tool, resulting in the birth of Health Qigong and Medical Qigong.
Later in 1994, Bill Moyers brought Qigong to the USA through the PBS series Healing And The Mind, which is when the general public encountered it for the first time.
Types of Yoga & Qigong, and where TaiChi comes in
Just as there are numerous styles and lineages of Yoga– Yin Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Hot Yoga, Rocket Yoga, Qigong also takes many faces.
There are various types and styles of Qigong which include: Buddhist Qi Gong, Health Qigong, Medical Qigong, Martial Qigong. The practice of Qigong may include shaking, tapping, stationary stances and fluid, flowing forms.
Taijiquan 太极拳, often called TaiChi, is a martial form of Qigong practiced as a fighting art. TaiChi was believed to be founded by Taoist Monk named Zhang San Feng 张三丰.
Compared to Wushu 武术, TaiChi is more focused on internal energy cultivation and in general slower and gentler.
How does Yoga & Qigong compare?
Below you can see commonly-practiced types of Yoga and Qigong mapped along the spectrum of Yin-Yang 阴阳 or Langhana – Brahmana, from passive to active.
Qigong tends to be slower and more gentle (Yin), relative to other practices like TaiChi or Ashtanga Yoga.
However, compared to Restorative Yoga or Yin Yoga which is static with long holds of 3-5 minutes, moving Qigong forms e.g. shaking, tapping, and flowing are faster, more active and warming.
Here’s a 20 minute Qigong practice you can try which will support your meditation and Yoga practice:
Yoga Qigong: Approaches to practice and life
Yoga’s asanas, or postures, were designed to cultivate strength, flexibility and mobility so that the practitioner would be able to sit in meditation for hours.
Qigong, on the other hand, typically includes flowing movements, though there are also stationery poses and standing meditation.
Yoga postures tend to be more linear, while Qigong often involves spiraling movements that take the practitioner across various planes of movement.
Yoga and Qigong both share a belief in balancing effort with ease. In Yoga Sutra 2.46, “sthira sukham asanam” can be understood as “the posture(s) should be steady, stable, and comfortable.”
Likewise, when practicing Qigong, practitioners are encouraged to embody WuWei 无为, which is engaging in action without unnecessary striving, or ‘effortless action’.
Furthermore, both Qigong and Yoga emphasize the importance of non-attachment to allow the practitioner to attain spiritual liberation.
In Yoga, this is called Karma Yoga: rightful action without being attached to the outcome or being manipulated by the potential results. In Qigong this is flowing with the Dao 道, taking the the rightful ‘way, path, speech, method’ in life.
Subtle body in Yoga & Qigong
Yoga and Qigong are respectively associated with a medical system; Yoga is associated with Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest medical systems from India, while Qigong is rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
In Yoga, the invisible energy channels that irrigate the fertile soil and land of one’s body is called the nadis, while in Qigong it is referred to as the meridian channels, or JingLuo 经络.
Within these energy channels, both systems also believed there are concentrated energy vortexes. Within Yoga these are called the seven Chakras, while in Qigong these are the three Dantian 丹田, as mapped below.
Both Qigong and Yoga are also rooted in their respective Five Elements Theory, Traditional Chinese Medicine’s Five Moving Forces WuXing 五行 and Ayurveda’s Panchamahabhuta, which are shown below.
Furthermore Yoga and Qigong acknowledge the Five Elements as dominant energies that underpin and drive the shifting seasons and cycles in the world.
Each system has other further associations. In Yoga and Ayurveda the Five Elements are associated with the five Koshas, seven Chakras and five Vayus.
On the other hand, in Qigong and TCM the Five Elements are associated with Emotions, Virtues, Numbers, Organs, and so on. An extensive list of the Five Elements Relationships in TCM/Qigong can be found here.
Qigong & Yoga: Who are they for?
The rise of Instagram Yoga challenges and star teachers like Kino McGregor who post selfies of themselves in challenging arm balances like handstands portray Yoga almost as a form of acrobatic art.
Modern Yoga, as taught in the West in gyms and yoga studios, especially more active styles like Vinyasa Flow, Yoga HIIT, Rocket Yoga, and even Steel Mace Yoga have attracted a strong following amongst a younger crowd – generally those who are in their early 20s to late 40s.
These more athletic styles of Yoga have been promoted as ‘workouts’, alongside other fitness styles like Tabata, Zumba and aerobics.
In contrast, Qigong has been known predominantly for its healing benefits and more gentle nature, with a core following of its practitioners being older adults in their 60s and above.
Many practitioners turn to Qigong as a way to heal from injury or chronic health conditions like heart disease, cancer or arthritis.
That being said, Yoga is not only for those who are athletic or those looking for a workout, and Qigong isn’t only for those looking to heal or recover from an injury.
Gentler forms of Yoga like Yin Yoga, Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra are on the rise as practitioners seek solutions to the stresses of modern life.
Similarly, Martial forms of Qigong including TaiChi and Wushu, and even Shaolin Qigong are becoming more popular amongst those seeking to strengthen their body and fortify their mind.
Yoga vs Qigong: Is one better than the other?
So is Yoga or Qigong better? It depends, and the best part is, you don’t have to choose one over the other, you can try both!
Both Yoga and Qigong are ancient energy cultivation practices that offer unique benefits and approaches to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
Neither is better than the other, though depending on your situation and specific circumstances you might prefer one over the other.
Qigong can complement your yoga practice and teaching so your mindfulness and self-cultivation practice is more well-rounded.
For me, Qigong’s diverse forms – tapping, shaking and spiraling flowing movements have also been a welcome addition to my self-cultivation practice, which includes Yoga and meditation.
Practicing Qigong has helped me heal from sciatica pain, improve my mobility, balance, spatial awareness while deepening my internal energy cultivation.
Because of this, I encourage my students and the teachers I mentor to try Qigong and experience it for themselves to see if they might benefit too.
Curious to experience Qigong?
Join me for the Qigong Global Summit (free, online) 27 February – 3 March 2023.
You’ll enjoy my free workshop on the five elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine and how they relate to key phases of your creative cycles and how you can harness them to manifest abundance, joy, and flow in your life.
By registering, you’ll not only be able to access my workshop, but more than 35+ amazing Qigong and mindfulness workshops by leading experts in the field, to complement your Yoga practice/teaching. Find out more and register for FREE here.