Qi Gong Vs Tai Chi: The 5 Primary Differences

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If you are relatively unfamiliar with Tai Chi and Qi Gong, they may seem one and the same, as they are both physical movement practices or wellness practices designed to increase energy and decrease stress. Furthermore, both Tai Chi and Qi Gong have their roots in ancient Chinese traditions. 

However, there are differences between Qi Gong vs Tai Chi, and understanding the differences between them can help you decide which art form may be best for you.

In this article, we will take a closer look at Tai Chi and Qi Gong, both in terms of what each movement practice entails on its own, the similarities between them, and the differences between Qi Gong vs Tai Chi.

We will cover: 

  • What Are Tai Chi and Qi Gong?
  • What Are the Benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong?
  • Differences Between Qi Gong vs Tai Chi

Let’s get started!

A group of people performing Tai Chi movements in a park.

What Are Tai Chi and Qi Gong?

Tai Chi and Qigong (sometimes written as Qi Gong) are both considered forms of meditative movement that have been practiced in China for hundreds of years and are used to promote the health and wellness aspects of traditional Chinese medicine.

Both Qigong and Tai Chi sessions may incorporate different physical movements, including slow, flowing, meditative, “dance-like motions,” along with body shaking and sitting or standing meditation postures.

There is a strong emphasis on mindful breathing and coordinating the body, breath, and mind. 

Although Qigong is much older than Tai Chi, both forms of meditative movement practice are close relatives in that they have shared theoretical roots, common practice components, and links to the wellness and health aspects central to traditional Chinese medicine. 

Both Qigong and Tai Chi meditative practices share a lot of overlap in terms of what is described in traditional Chinese medicine as the “three regulations.” 

These three regulations include body focus, which refers to posture and movement; breath focus, which focuses on connecting to your breath and breathing mindfully; and mind focus, which are the meditative components of the practices.

A person performing Qi Gong.

What Are the Benefits of Tai Chi and Qi Gong?

Studies have found that both Tai Chi and Qigong can improve mood and decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.

These benefits are thought to be attributable to the fact that both practices involve bringing awareness to your breath and enhancing the mind-body connection. 

The slow movements and deliberate, slow breathing frequency may alter the autonomic system and restore homeostasis, mitigating stress related to overactivity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and bringing the body into a state of parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system control rather than sympathetic (“fight or flight”) control. 

Additionally, the ability of Qigong and Tai-Chi to support better emotional regulation is thought to occur through changes in multiple prefrontal regions of the brain and the limbic system, as well as in the expression of genes linked to inflammatory responses and stress-related pathways.

Tai Chi and Qigong can also have physical health benefits.

Studies have demonstrated that these practices can confer beneficial effects across different age groups and for different health conditions, including decreasing blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), reducing blood pressure, improving mobility, improving balance and preventing falls, and improving overall quality of life.

A person performing Tai Chi on a beach.

Differences Between Qi Gong vs Tai Chi

Despite the many similarities, there are also several notable differences between Tai Chi vs Qi Gong, including the following:

The Primary Difference Between Qi Gong vs Tai Chi 

The primary difference between Tai Chi and Qigong really comes down to the purpose or main foundation of each art form.

Tai Chi is considered a martial art, whereas Qi Gong is really classified as a system of wellness. Qigong focuses on the enhancement of the life essence that the Chinese refer to as “Qi.”

Qi Gong

The meaning of Qigong is said to roughly mean “to cultivate or enhance the inherent functional (energetic) essence of the human being.”

The roots of Qigong date back thousands of years ago and are deeply intertwined with the traditional Chinese culture and way of life.

A group of people performing Tai Chi movements in a class.

Tai Chi 

Although still an old practice, Tai Chi is in its much more nascent stages compared with Qigong. This martial art form was developed by Shaolin monks and Chinese military leaders. 

Rather than being a way of life or a wellness practice to promote a healthier body, mind, and spirit, Tai Chi was originally intended as “T’ai chi Chuan,” or “Grand Ultimate Fist,” for self-defense and combat. 

According to experts, Tai Chi as a meditative movement practice is undertaken “to elicit functional balance internally for healing, stress neutralization, longevity, and personal tranquility.” 

With that said, Tai Chi incorporates elements of Qigong as the founders were well-versed in the practices of Qigong and saw the benefits of interweaving elements of it into their system of self-defense. 

Now let’s get into more detail.

A group of people performing Tai Chi movements.

Qi Gong vs Tai Chi: Practice

One of the big differences between Qigong and Tai Chi is the popularity or spread of the practices. Although Tai Chi tends to be much more popular than Qigong in the United States and “the West,” the reverse is true in China.

Qigong is essentially a part of everyday living in China. It is not only part of the Chinese National Health Pl, but it is also regularly practiced in schools, universities, and hospitals.

While Tai Chi is popular, it’s a deliberate martial art or movement practice that some people choose to participate in rather than daily wellness practice.

Qi Gong vs Tai Chi: Complexity

Although complexity can be seen as somewhat of a subjective term, in general, when comparing the complexity of Qi Gong vs Tai Chi, Tai Chi is considered more complex than Qi Gong. 

Most Tai Chi practices involve performing a series of many moves strung together. Although the movements themselves might not necessarily be that complex compared to the movements found in other types of exercise and martial arts, the fact that there are many movements that go into a Tai Chi series makes it inherently complex.

A person with their eyes close reaching their arms out.

Moreover, although the movements look simple because they are performed slowly, they are performed with such precision, mindfulness, and deliberation that mastering Tai Chi can actually take many months or more. 

On the other hand, Qi Gong practice often involves performing one single movement over and over in a repeated fashion, or it may only focus on breathing rather than performing any movement at all.

For this reason, it may take some time to become familiar and comfortable with the Qigong art form, but the practice is considerably less complex for most people.

Qi Gong vs Tai Chi: Discipline

Most martial arts forms have some degree of discipline or formality to them. In terms of the rigid or disciplined nature of Qi Gong vs Tai Chi, Tai Chi requires considerably more discipline. 

There is a lot of emphasis on proper form and executing each movement with the correct technique. The proper positioning of the spine, knees, and feet is an integral part of the movement practice. 

In contrast, with Qi Gong, there is far less emphasis on form. The practice is less rigid and more of a free-form art form than Tai Chi.

A group of people performing Tai Chi movements.

Qi Gong vs Tai Chi: Accessibility

Although neither Tai Chi nor Qi Gong is generally considered vigorous or high-intensity exercise when it comes to how adaptive and accessible Tai Chi vs Qi Gong is, Qi Gong is definitely a more approachable and adaptable practice for those with injuries or certain physical disabilities.

Qi Gong is a free-form practice, and there are plenty of non-movement ways to practice it, simply involving getting in a comfortable position and performing breathing exercises.

Therefore, if you have an injury or physical impairment, you can still practice Qigong, whereas some Tai Chi positions, stances, and moves require a fair amount of balance and coordination. Plus, you have to be weight-bearing, so if you can’t stand, especially on one leg, Tai Chi might not be safe or easy for you.

Some studies have also found that Qigong is safer and more effective than Tai Chi for people with type 2 diabetes, particularly in those with significant abdominal obesity. 

A person performing Qi Gong.

Qi Gong vs Tai Chi: Exercise

When comparing Tai Chi vs Qi Gong exercises in terms of which provides a better workout, Tai Chi is more physically challenging and will usually burn more calories and provide more strengthening, flexibility, and balance benefits compared to most Qigong practices. 

Overall, incorporating one or both of the Chinese meditative movement practices of Tai Chi and Qi Gong into your wellness routine can be a great way to boost your physical and mental health, improve your mind-body connection, and improve the quality of your life.

Look to Qigong for more of an ancient practice that focuses on breath awareness and wellness and Tai Chi to work on mindful movement and balance.

If you would like to polish your balancing and awareness skills before giving Tai Chi or Qi Gong a try, try out our very own proprioception exercises to see improvements fast.

A group of people performing Tai Chi movements.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

1 thought on “Qi Gong Vs Tai Chi: The 5 Primary Differences”

  1. Wow! Amber did such a great job with this article comparing the differences between Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Her comparison is so thoughtful, thorough, and objective.
    As a Qi Gong master, I’m impressed that a non-Chinese person could present the subject in such great depth. She must have spent considerable amount of time and energy to learn their nuances.
    Great job, Amber!
    In Gratitude,
    Cathy Mu

    Reply

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