Qigong vs. Tai Chi: 7 Aspects to Spot the Differences

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Man does Tai Chi outside

Qigong (pronounced Chi Gong), and Tai Chi both have the word Chi (Qi) in their names. Yet do they both mean the same thing? Chi is a concept from ancient Chinese medicine and is considered a healing energy that surrounds us all. 

Qigong and Tai Chi work with energy, but what are the differences? 

For both the beginner and the advanced Chi practitioner, the distinction between Tai Chi and Qigong is not always easy. Some even claim that there are no differences and that the boundaries are not clearly defined. 

Others say that the distinction is simple: Tai Chi is a martial art, and Qigong is a healing practice.

In this article, we at Mindmonia got to the bottom of it. We will first explain what Qigong and Tai Chi is, to have a unified understanding of both terms. Then we will go into the differences. 

Jump ahead to any of the sections below:

What Is Qigong?

Qigong is, simply put, meditative energy work from ancient China. It’s about combining physical movements with controlled breathing exercises and, above all, different visualization techniques.  

There is no prioritization between the components. For example, visualization is as important as the physical movements. 

Over time many different styles and exercises evolved. This is mainly because the knowledge about Qigong has been passed on from master to master for centuries. Accordingly, there is not one universal Qigong style or one correct way to perform an exercise.

Among the well-known systems of Qigong exercises are:

  • The 8 brocades
  • Exercises for the 5 elements
  • The 18 Shibashi exercises

If you would like to read more about the different Qigong exercises, take a look at our detailed Qigong article.

Qigong is also called “standing meditation” because of its calming effect on body and mind. 

What Is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi (or Taiji) is a combination of martial arts, meditation, and healing. The meditative martial art from ancient China is practiced both with and without weapons.

It’s a so-called soft martial art, without any hardness or breaking tests like, for example, in karate. You perform the Tai Chi forms and poses in flowing movements, paired with breathing exercises.

The forms include:

  • Wu
  • Yang
  • Chen
  • Sun
  • Hao

However, these are only a few of the many different styles of Tai Chi.

Most people today practice Tai Chi not only for self-defense, but also for its many emotional and physical benefits. If you practice Tai Chi regularly, you can benefit from the following advantages: 

Qigong vs. Tai Chi: The Differences

Red balls with ying and yang sign

To make the differences between Qigong and Tai Chi more transparent, we defined the following comparison criteria:

  • Focus 
  • Exercises
  • Movements
  • Use of Chi
  • Simplicity
  • Physical exertion
  • Meditation

Difference 1: Focus

Tai Chi is, as mentioned above, a martial art. Qigong, on the other hand, has an entirely different focus. However, it’s essential what kind of Qigong you are comparing to Tai Chi.

For example, there is medical Qigong, which is exclusively for healing, or the martial arts version, which is called martial Qigong. 

Thus, what is important here is which type of Qigong you are comparing to Tai Chi. In general, you can say that Qigong is used more for healing, and Tai Chi is used more for self-defense. However, this is not always true because you can use Tai Chi as a healing method too. There is no strict distinction between the two in this respect.

Difference 2: Exercises

The exercises in Tai Chi are mostly done while standing, whereas, in specific Qigong exercises, you can also sit or lie down. The movements themselves are very slow and with smooth transitions in both. In Tai Chi, however, if you use Tai Chi for self-defense, you may find yourself performing abrupt movements.

Difference 3: Movements

Tai Chi works more in forms and fixed poses than Qigong. In Qigong the forms are more a combination of simple movements. Each movement has certain benefits and effects on the body and mind, according to ancient Chinese medicine. 

For example, you can add more movements to known Qigong sequences if you want to use or enhance certain benefits. This is one of the reasons why the well-known Qigong exercises are often slightly different in their execution. 

Difference 4: Use of Chi

Qigong and Tai Chi use Chi in different ways. Qigong, when used as a healing practice, focuses on a specific type of Chi with a particular function. In Qigong, you can use exercises and healing methods that are designed to activate the Chi for a specific purpose.

Tai Chi instead sees Chi as a whole, intending to activate and regulate the flow of energy in the body in a holistic way. However, it’s essential to differentiate between the exercises you’re doing and why you practice. 

The words “Qi” and “Chi” have two different meanings in Chinese. “Qi” means energy, and “Chi” means ultimate. Another indication that the understanding of energy is slightly different between Tai Chi and Qigong.

Difference 5: Simplicity

Woman does Qigong outside

The movements in Qigong are deliberately kept simple. It’s easier to learn because there are fewer fixed poses, and Qigong isn’t as physically demanding as Tai Chi. 

The sequences in Tai Chi are relatively complex and physically much more demanding. It often takes a lot of practice to master particular Tai Chi poses.

For beginners, it is often easier to start with Qigong and then switch to Tai Chi.  

Difference 6: Physical Exertion

Qigong is designed so that everyone can practice it. Children, seniors, or people with physical disabilities can practice Qigong. The movements are gentle and easy to remember and can be practiced sitting or even lying down. Therefore, they are suitable for almost everyone. Besides, the poses are connected with visualization techniques and are not physically very strenuous.

Tai Chi, due to its nature as a martial art, is often only possible in a standing position and, depending on the pose, can be physically demanding.  

Difference 7: Meditation

Both Tai Chi and Qigong have meditative aspects. However, the focus is different. In Qigong, meditation plays a more significant role, and the focus is on combining various movements with meditative breathing exercises.

Tai Chi also has meditative aspects, but the forms and poses are more body-oriented. Breathing also plays an important role, but most Tai Chi forms are less mindful in themselves than the movements of Qigong.

Summarizing Comparison

Assuming we consider Qigong as a pure healing practice and Tai Chi as an absolute martial art, the differences are as follows:

CriterionTai ChiQigong
FocusMartial arts primary, healing and meditation secondaryFocus on healing methods, meditation and visualization
ExercisesAre mostly performed in standing positionCan be performed while standing, lying and sitting
MovementsShapes and poses are clearly defined and movements are only part of the overall postureMovements are considered detached from the forms. Poses can be supplemented with movements as required
Use of ChiThe entire energy flow in the body is controlledEnergy for certain functions is controlled
SimplicityMovements and forms are complicated and not easy to learnMovements and forms are deliberately kept simple
Physical ExertionPhysically strenuousPhysically not as strenuous as Tai Chi
MeditationPlays a secondary role in martial artsPlays a primary role in the healing method

In summary, there are more similarities than differences. 

Conclusion

Qigong and Tai Chi are vast fields that are not always easy to separate. The two practices from ancient China differ mainly in focus. 

However, both are very similar in their ideas. While it’s assumed that Tai Chi is mainly for martial arts, Tai Chi also has healing methods. Qigong, on the other hand, is seen more as a “healing” practice, but it also depends on the type of Qigong. For example, you can practice Martial Qigong, the martial arts version of Qigong. 

In the end, it all comes down to what kind and form of Tai Chi and Qigong you practice, and for what purpose you practice it. 

Many people, including us, believe that Tai Chi is a form of Qigong. Tai Chi is based on how much you can control your energy, your Chi. You can learn this partly through some Tai Chi forms and exercises. 

If you want to master Tai Chi, there is no way around Qigong. Qigong is the basis and essence of inner energy work, which is the core of the philosophy of Tai Chi. Tai Chi without Qigong, doesn’t work.

If you are not sure whether to start with Tai Chi or with Qigong, remember that no matter which of the two you choose, both Qigong and Tai Chi have many health benefits. It’s better to practice any one of them than not to practice at all. 

For absolute beginners, we recommend Qigong because it is not as physically demanding as Tai Chi, and because it is easier to learn. As mentioned above, many beginners start with Qigong and later switch to Tai Chi, the more demanding version.

If you like Qigong because of its meditative approach, but you want to move a little more, you can also try Yoga or Pilates.

Learn more about Qigong, meditation, mindfulness, and how these practices can help you achieve your goals. Subscribe to our free newsletter. Thank you for reading.

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