Yoga and tai chi are both gentle forms of exercise that take a mind-body-spirit approach rather than just being about a physical workout. Both are ancient practices that originate in the East: yoga in India and tai chi in China. Tai chi is a martial art that was originally used in combat, but has evolved into a slow-moving, dance-like moving meditation; yoga also has a meditative component but involves more static poses than movements. The overall benefits of each discipline are similar in some ways, and different in others.
Strength and Flexibility
Both tai chi and yoga build your strength and increase your flexibility. However, with yoga, these benefits are more immediately apparent; it’s really hard to do some of yoga’s challenging poses without feeling the pain in your muscles and realizing, over time, how far you’ve come. It takes dedication and practice to work up to holding a position, and it’s your burgeoning flexibility that allows you to achieve the posture, and your growing strength that allows you to hold it.
Tai chi’s moves are challenging in their own way, and the crouching and flowing motion will certainly increase both your strength and flexibility too. But that’s a secondary goal, and it’s more like a bonus side effect than the reason people seek out tai chi practice.
Balance and Focus
Yoga's static poses are excellent for improving your balance, and many of the positions are designed to challenge it. It’s focus and concentration that allow a yoga student to keep steady in those difficult postures, and this combination mind-body workout is one of yoga’s biggest draws.
Tai chi, however, is better for improving your balance while walking, because of the fluid motion from one precise strike or block to another. The philosophy of tai chi is based on the yin-yang concept that life is always in balance between positive and negative; that’s key to the entire practice, which is about using negative energy for positive result. It also strengthens your legs, hip joints and core for improved stability. In tandem with these physical benefits, learning the moves and practicing the katas build focus, similar to yoga.
The focus, concentration, proper breathing techniques and meditative state of mind required for both yoga and tai chi make them both soothing. With yoga, there’s the added benefit of a reclined meditation portion, or Savasana, often practiced at the end of a session. These combinations of physical and mental processes help to reduce stress and anxiety, enhance your mood and improve overall well being, according to MayoClinic.com. These practices can also make you feel empowered, with both as you conquer new levels of achievement, and with tai chi because of the combat-based movements.
Chronic Health Conditions
Both yoga and tai chi can be practiced by people of many skill levels, fitness levels and ages. Because of this, both disciplines are often recommended for the elderly and injured. The stretching and strengthening aspects of yoga have been found to help improve posture and alleviate back pain, as has tai chi’s slow and gentle movement.
Tai chi has been studied extensively and found to be helpful in dealing with conditions such as arthritis, breast cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. Similarly, “Yoga can help reduce risk factors for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Yoga might also help alleviate chronic conditions, such as depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia,” according to MayoClinic.com.