The healing exercise systems of tai chi and qigong (also spelled chi kung or chi gong) both use principles of returning to natural structure in alignment with gravitational energy flow to bring about the healing of body, mind (breath) and spirit. Together these systems constitute the healing exercise branch of Chinese Medicine, which means that they follow the meridian (energy pathway) theory of acupuncture and the cosmological concept of the inter-relatedness of all things. But, how are taichi and qigong different? And, which healing exercise would suit me most at the outset?
For Your Healing: Differences between Taichi and Qigong
Qigong exercises (especially medical and spiritual exercise) are easy to do and suitable for all ages and health conditions, even for mental and emotional issues. If you have a pronounced physical weakness (such as knees or lower back from injury or aging), or reduced vitality and immunity from a chronic illness, qigong (rather than tai chi) would benefit your health and wellbeing most. This is because, qigong exercises consist of simple repetitive movements in stationary standing, sitting or lying postures to target the healing of a specific illnesses whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual in nature. Qigong also focuses on stress-reduction through mind-body-breath integration. For the already healthy, qigong can be used to improve on your vitality, emotional harmony and spiritual depth.
The healing properties of taichi are profound though general in nature. With daily practice in taichi, health conditions do clear up, though the healing time frame is much longer than for qigong. It is not advisable to begin a taichi class if you have any of the following: a current injury, painful structural mal-alignment issues, pronounced physical weakness or severely reduced vitality due to chronic illness. (If you feel that you fall into any of these categories, it is best to consult the instructor and your doctor, before attempting to start a taichi class.)
For Reaching Your Physical Potential: Differences between Taichi and Qigong
Taichi is a soft style martial art. Practice in this art can help you reach the physical peak for your age (which will seem profoundly youthful) while engendering in you a happy, peaceful and deeply meditative state. Its healing aspect is more a wonderful byproduct than its focus. In the West, taichi has been misconstrued as a health exercise primarily for seniors. In Asia and in true lineage taichi clubs in the West, it is common to see students beginning this art in their twenties.
Taichi requires at-home practice to memorize its slowly executed ten to thirty minute martial (dance-like) forms, to work on balance and postural changes from the outset, and finally to learn to synchronize with the gravitational force in motion for strengthening and meditative advancement. This means learning mind-body-gravitational force integration/alignment through exercises that flow like waves. Taichi movements start simple and procede to more difficult ones (appearing like slow kungfu) as the student progresses. Because this movement art uses intelligence to understand natural movement, anyone who practices consistently can become an excellent athlete(!), unlike so many sports that require a particular body type and strength of constitution. Taichi can serve as your primary exercise since it is all at once cardiovascular and weight bearing for the bones, while improving postural alignment, joint strength, flexibility and agility.
Qigong would only serve as your primary sport if you are rehabilitating from illness or injury, or if you are a senior. If you are a dancer or one who trains primarily in a specific sport, you may choose a qigong set as an adjunct exercise for the same reason as it is added to the training protocols in taichi and kungfu lineages– to maximize your vitality and potential to stay healthy, relaxed, emotionally balanced, focused and spiritually connected while you train hard. And martial qigong is used in particular to build one’s capacity for increasing strength and power.