When you mention Qi Gong to someone who isn’t too familiar with it you’ll sometimes hear the response: “Oh Qi Gong, isn’t that kind of like Tai Chi?” The conversation continues and brings up another question: “So what is the difference between Qi Gong and Tai Chi?” As regular Qi Gong practitioners, we get this question all the time. Therefore, we thought we’d write a blog post that discusses the similarities and differences between the two practices. This blog post is also an excellent resource if you’re trying to decide which practice to pursue.
Origins and Evolution
Qi Gong originated in China between 3000 and 5000 years ago and was practiced by Taoist sages for a variety of reasons. In essence, Qi Gong practitioners sought to work with their internal life force energy. Often, their intention was to cultivate physical vitality or spiritual clarity. The three most common types of Qi Gong are medical Qi Gong, spiritual Qi Gong, and martial Qi Gong. However, with so many ways to cultivate and apply one’s internal Qi, there are over 3000 different ways to practice.
Tai Chi, on the other hand, originated from Qi Gong only about 800 years ago. It is still based on the same understanding of “Qi” and operates with similar principles. Therefore, many of the practices of Qi Gong and Tai Chi resemble a form that is similar in appearance. Both work with the internal energy of the body through various movements practices as well as meditation. Since awareness of the physical body is an essential element to cultivation, movement practices are often slow and mindful. Mind and body work together in each to benefit the whole. This is what commonly causes confusion for people are not familiar with one or either. In both practices, you seek to increase energy, deepen relaxation, and find your flow state. The differences between the two lie in the intention of your practice, and how you seek to apply the energy and flow state that you cultivate.
Differences in Specificity
As mentioned above, Qi Gong is practiced for a wide variety of reasons while Tai Chi is much more specific. Instead of offering 3000 different kinds of practices, Tai Chi is comprised of only five or six different styles. All of the styles of Tai Chi fall under the “martial” category of Qi Gong.
Because of its specificity, Tai Chi can be thought of as a more contained and well-defined practice. Traditionally, people practiced Tai Chi as part of a martial arts training. However, it also is commonly learned with the intention of relieving stress while cultivating energy and good health. One of the wonderful things about Tai Chi is that as long as you are practicing based on the core fundamental principles, it will deliver all three—meditative, martial, and medical benefits.
Differences in Learning
In almost all cases, Qi Gong is an easier practice to learn. With simpler, repeating movements, a novice practitioner can memorize a new routine rather quickly. This makes Qi Gong more accessible to people who don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to an extensive training and practice.
On the other hand, in Tai Chi you practice a longer set of movements that are more complex and with less repetition. In many cases, it can take up to six months or a year to memorize a full sequence that you can then practice on your own. This also means that it can take a lot longer to really start to experience the positive benefits of Tai Chi. Obviously, Qi Gong is much different. Anyone who’s attended one of Lee’s classes knows that it only takes a few minutes to fall into a deep state of relaxation and have an experience of Qi.
Although Tai Chi takes considerably more work to learn, the effort is not without its advantages. As a martial art, Tai Chi constantly requires you to focus on postural alignment and body mechanics to a very high degree. This creates a process of constantly refining your alignment and posture in a highly efficient manner. The level of discipline and consistent practice carries over into many aspects of life and helps to cultivate holistic strength, balance, and resilience.
Similar benefits can be experienced with Qi Gong but only with specific practices and the right discipline. Since Qi Gong is a much more broad and accessible practice, most practitioners will not delve into a specific aspect with the same focus and directedness that many Tai Chi students adhere to. Qi Gong practitioner often prefer to make good use of the practice’s wide versatility and try routines that reflect a variety of intentions.
Choosing for Yourself
All of these differences make each practice a wise choice for the right person. Someone who is interested in immersing themselves in a more specific and rigorous path may choose to pursue Tai Chi for the health or martial benefits. Someone who wants a more accessible practice that has a wider breadth of opportunity may prefer Qi Gong. And of course, some may feel that both have a meaningful place in their life, and that is great as well. Like all decisions, the right path for you is completely dependent on your own self and situation. What are you seeking? What are your values for your practice? How much time and energy do you have to dedicate to a practice? Do you want to delve deep into one contained practice or be expansive into many? It may also be the case that one practice is right at one stage of your life, and another serves you better at the next stage. There are a lot of factors that contribute to finding the right path for you in the here and now. Whichever practice you are most drawn to, you can feel great knowing that you’re on a path of cultivating your greatest gifts and becoming your best self.
Please feel free to share this blog post with friends or family. If you found it to be helpful for furthering your understanding of Qi Gong and Tai Chi, then others will too. It always feels good to empower those you care about, and it is our hope that articles like this one can contribute to your wisdom and happiness.
By Ian Drogin