The Difference Between Yoga and Tai Chi

Road to Wellness

The ancient techniques of Yoga and Tai Chi have been practiced in Eastern countries for thousands of years. As they become more and more available around town, you might be interested in joining a group class. But how do you know which is right for you?

Yoga and Tai Chi are mind/body exercises, meaning they encourage deep awareness of internal sensation and an exploration of your entire being. They enhance your ability to identify what your body wants and needs, enable you to identify stress patterns in your life and teach you tools to alter those patterns.

Essentially, Yoga and Tai Chi are the combination of exercise and meditation. You'll be asked to concentrate on your movements and to try to let go of your busy life while in class. If you've attempted to establish a regular meditation practice and found it be extremely difficult, the gentle, flowing movements of Tai Chi or Yoga could help.

Both practices are specifically designed to improve energy flow throughout the body. Life force, or the energy that keeps us alive, moves through us continually.

Both traditions teach us that illness results from impaired energy flow that changes how the life force is moving through the body's energy channels. Fatigue and insomnia tend to respond favorably to either practice.

There are significant differences between the two. Yoga postures are typically held for 20 seconds or longer. Because of the extended holds, the body becomes flexible, though rest periods are needed to recover from the holding patterns. Yoga classes are always different, offering a variety of challenges for the body and mind. If something doesn't work for you, it can be modified or you can simply choose not to do it.

A good Yoga class will offer support to practice at your own pace in a way that's right for you. If you enjoy variety and learning new things, Yoga will offer plenty of opportunities.

Tai Chi always flows from one gentle movement to the next. There's no holding of poses. The same exercise is typically practiced repeatedly, often in a set pattern. Tai Chi for Beginners is appropriate for nearly every physical condition, with minimal modifications that are easily remembered and accomplished as you move. If you like the consistency and stability of knowing what will happen before you come to class, the repetition in Tai Chi can be very soothing.

Tai Chi's continuous, flowing movements are done in a standing position. Most of the gentle movements are centered at the waist, which can be beneficial if it's difficult for you to get up and down from the floor.

A typical Yoga class will include time spent lying on the back and belly, sitting, kneeling and standing. Yoga classes usually include some type of inversion. While you won't be asked to do anything extreme like head standing, you might be asked to lie on your back and put your feet up against the wall. Inversion has valuable physical effects on the body, most importantly balancing the effects of gravity on the organs and glands.

The purpose of many Yoga postures is to make breathing easier, more rhythmic and more consistent. The student learns several different breathing patterns and techniques. Asthma and shortness of breath can be alleviated by Yoga practice.

In Tai Chi, the breath work isn't emphasized. It assumes that the student's lung capacity and quality of breath will develop as a natural part of the practice. Breathing might be cued, but breathing techniques aren't generally taught.

The consistent, appropriate practice of either Yoga or Tai Chi will result in improved health, coordination, balance, strength, flexibility and grace. Over time, your body tone will improve, as will your ability to focus and concentrate. Both practices result in the development of a stable, peaceful center, which makes it easier to weather life's storms and adjust to change without feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

STEPHANIE HERRIN teaches Yoga at the Cincinnati Yoga School and other places around the city; contact her via DIANE UTASKI returns to this column in two weeks; ask her a question by e-mailing [email protected].

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