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Tai Chi or Yoga: Which Workout Should You Try?

Tai chi and yoga have a lot in common. Often considered cousins in the fitness space, both of these exercises are perfect for people of all ages. However, despite their similarities, they still differ in a lot of ways, especially if you factor in the variations that people practice.

Some follow a relaxed continuous motion, while other variations prefer more physically demanding movements. But despite these differences, there are three things at the center of tai chi and yoga: meditation, deep breathing, and motion sequences. Combining all three will provide massive benefits for both your physical and mental well-being.

But most people often wonder which is better, tai chi or yoga? As mentioned earlier, the benefits will vary depending on the type of style you’re practicing, your physical capabilities, and what you want to achieve.

Generally speaking, tai chi focuses on one slow, continuous sequence. Meanwhile, yoga is centered on poses and maintaining these poses for several seconds or minutes and transitioning to the next.

Let’s dive deeper to truly see the difference between yoga and tai chi. Let’s start with tai chi.

Benefits of Tai Chi

While tai chi has been developed as a form of martial arts, almost all people can take advantage of the benefits it brings. These include:

  • Improves muscular strength and definition
  • Improves balance and flexibility
  • Enhances endurance and stamina
  • Enhances aerobic conditioning
  • Can help with weight loss
  • Helps alleviate back pain
  • Boosts cardiorespiratory function
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Improves sleeping patterns
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Helps combat fibromyalgia
  • Decreases anxiety, mild depression, and mood disorders

To make the most of these health benefits, you need to be consistent with your tai chi movements. And, of course, you’d want to perform these movements precisely, which is why it’s recommended you find a tai chi instructor when you’re just starting out.

This will help you get familiar with the movements and get proper corrections whenever you make mistakes. However, tai chi instructors do not need a license. As such, you’d want to ask for an instructor’s training and experience to gauge their expertise. You’d also want to get feedback from their students to determine if they truly are effective instructors.

Moreover, even if you received a high recommendation, it’s best if you attend the class yourself. This will give you a chance to see firsthand what the instructor is like, their teaching method, their preferred style, and the overall content. By doing this, you’ll be able to determine if they’re the perfect fit for your unique situation.

Tai Chi Exercises for Seniors and Beginners

As mentioned earlier, tai chi is beneficial for everyone. But it’s seniors and beginners that can truly take advantage of its fluid movements as it isn’t as demanding as other forms of physical activity.

One of the best tai chi movements for both these groups is what’s called Energy to the Sky. It stretches and strengthens your back and abdominal region while also developing your core for stability.

  • First, place your feet at a hip distance with your hands resting at the side
  • Bring both hands up at chest level, then bend them towards each other with your fingers facing and your palms facing down
  • Control your breathing as you straighten both arms and bring them up over your head
  • Bring your hands down as you slowly exhale
  • Repeat at least five times. Remember to control your breathing with each consecutive motion

Another great exercise is called Drawing the Bow. It targets your arms, shoulders, chests, and legs.

  • Place your foot shoulder-width apart with your arms relaxed on both sides
  • Gently turn your torso to the left with your left foot extended slightly than your right
  • Then, bring your arms up at chest level, and turn them left, which will make your left arm extend farther than your right since you’re turned
  • Bend your knees and angle your right elbow up while your left arm remains extended
  • Return to the neutral position
  • The motion will mimic someone who’s shooting a bow up the sky
  • Repeat the motion on the opposite side
  • Repeat at least three times on each side

For beginners, this can be a great warm-up if you’re planning to perform a more rigorous exercise. For seniors, this can be your main exercise.

Both groups should perform these types of exercises at least several times a week to gain the benefits. Of course, check with your physician first before applying this to your daily routine.

Benefits of Yoga

Similar to tai chi, yoga offers physical and cognitive benefits. However, yoga focuses on more static poses than tai chi, where you must perform continuous and fluid motions. It aims to achieve a certain posture and maintain it for several seconds or a few minutes. This will also depend on the intensity of the form or pose and how it will transition to the next one.

Some benefits of most forms of yoga are:

  • Reduces back pain and arthritis discomfort
  • Decreases pain and stress levels as it produces endorphins
  • Helps maintain a healthy sleep cycle
  • Improves balance and flexibility
  • Lowers blood pressure and improves respiration
  • Boosts immune system

Again, to gain all these benefits, you need to be consistent with your yoga exercises and practice them according to your goals.

Beginners or the elderly might want to focus on having better balance. One can start with three one-hour sessions a week for five weeks. Of course, this should be adjusted if you’re elderly.

If you want a more intense workout, you can sign up for one of Life Time’s yoga classes. You can choose among many different formats and guided programs, depending on your goals.  Whatever you choose, you’d still reap the benefits of this exercise with proper consistency.

As for finding an instructor, look for a legitimate and Registered Yoga Teacher ( RYT). These teachers have received at least 200 hours worth of training sessions. While this isn’t a perfect system, it’s a step in the right direction in regulating yoga instructors.

To further bolster the teacher’s credentials, you’d also want to get recommendations from your friends who are taking yoga classes. Ask around to see what their opinion is about their instructors. You can also enroll in a class or two yourself to get firsthand experience. You can also extend your yoga workout with one of Life Time’s online classes for your convenience. 

Lastly, you’d want to be familiar with the basic movements to get a feel of the entire experience. Even if it’s on a beginner level, it’ll give you an overview of the poses, intensity, and your specific physical capacity.

One of the classic yoga poses for beginners is the Child’ Pose. This exercise stretches the spine and alleviates compression in the area caused by daily activities. It also helps relieve back pain. To do this, you’ll need to:

  • Kneel on the floor as you rest your hands on your thighs with your toes closed together
  • Then, lower your torso towards your knees as you slowly exhale
  • Keep your palms downwards as you go
  • Stretch forward with your shoulders relaxed
  • Maintain the pose between 30 seconds to a few minutes

For a more demanding yoga form, you can try Ashtanga Yoga. Keep in mind that this is one of the most intense yoga forms out there so you better have the physical capacity to perform it.

Ashtanga Yoga benefits range from improving muscle tone and overall flexibility to reducing stress and body fat. For the sequence itself, you can consult this cheat sheet. It has a series of movements from fundamental positions to finishing sequences. You can also check this 1-hour Ashtanga Yoga video.

Tai Chi vs Yoga

So which is best for you? Again, this depends on your age, health, and overall physical conditioning. Both yoga and tai chi are pretty easy at the beginner level.

As the intensity grows, however, you’ll find that tai chi is more demanding than yoga. This isn’t surprising given tai chi has been developed as a form of martial arts. There are even forms where you’ll need a partner during drilling exercises and pushing hands variations.

At the end of the day, tai chi and yoga are incredibly beneficial regardless of your physical capacity. Just make sure to take each form and sequence easily to avoid injury.

A Healthier Lifestyle

The benefits of tai chi and yoga are pretty much the same. They improve your muscles, movement, and flexibility, and can also do wonders for your mental health.

And the best part of it all is that you don’t need any equipment to perform them. Lay down a yoga mat on the floor and you’re good to go. Just keep at it for a couple of weeks and the results will surely manifest themselves.

Explore the LifeClinic blog for lifestyle, health, and fitness advice!

Dr. Reza Alizadeh

Dr. Reza is the visionary behind LifeClinic. His leadership is the foundation for the patient and team member experience, and overall direction of the LifeClinic. As the creator of IMJT, Dr. Reza continues to be the primary teacher on this technique.

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