Tai Chi vs. Yoga

The ancient art and exercise of tai chi is based on several principles. Among them are slow, smooth, continuous movements, proper weight shifts, an erect but relaxed posture, slow deep breathing, a loosening of joints from within and having a calm and focused mind. Practicing tai chi daily strengthens and improves balance, as well as brings peace. Tai chi has been called meditation in motion. When you learn a form and relax, enjoy and get into the flow, it's easy to be "in the zone" which is being in the present moment, with no worries about the future or concerns about the past. This is helpful on many levels. It's an antidote to our busy day to day lives, and the release of calming chemicals in the brain energizes and relaxes us. With tai chi's basis in nature, especially balance, yin and yang, it helps to balance us, so we're able to slow down, and be better equipped to handle life's ups and downs. It's not helpful to be constantly going strong. Rest is important. Slow movements allow us to access the mind body connection, and activates the slow twitch muscles, which support joints, help maintain posture and improves the flow of blood and oxygen to all parts of the body. Slow movements also benefit the fascia, or connective tissue, by allowing the fascia to be fluid and able to slide. Moving slowly, we can properly align the joints for safe movements. Aside from these benefits, tai chi movements exercise our entire body, including internal organs, and even the mind. We can take the lessons learned in tai chi to many areas of our lives. In tai chi we pull energy towards us and redirect it outward. For instance, it reminds us, when we communicate, to listen and process before we respond. To pause and think instead of simply reacting. To slow down and be aware of our surroundings. To protect the natural world.

If someone has been doing yoga, and maybe just wants an additional experience, tai chi would complement their yoga practice. Tai chi classes are a different experience, I think they're more interactive, more relaxed, possibly even more fun!

Also, if a person has had an accident, illness or surgery, or is older and finds that yoga is not quite the right fit for them, tai chi is a great option. It's safe, slow and can be done by anyone, in any condition, even seated. Modifications are easy to make. It improves strength, confidence, the sense of well being and connection, and decreases the risk of falls in older adults.

Tai chi is similar to yoga in some ways. Yoga originated in India long long ago and tai chi began in China, also in ancient times. Tai chi began as a martial art, and yoga, as a way of achieving harmony on the path to divine enlightenment. Both practices involve the body, mind, and spirit and were handed down from generation to generation. Both strengthen the muscles, and joints, and improves oxygenation to the entire body. Both practices improve balance, flexibility and core strength. Both use soft, relaxing music, as a background to class.

One thing that makes tai chi different from yoga is that we memorize the forms, which are similar to slow, graceful, flowing dances, so tai chi can be done at home everyday, to increase the health benefits, and in other settings, with other tai chi practitioners. We need to have a serene and focused mind to learn the forms. It's not that easy to move very slowly. If we happen to have a lapse in concentration, we lose our way. We try not to break the silken thread we are weaving.

Another difference is that tai chi is extremely safe. There are very few tai chi injuries due to its slow, controlled movements and never stretching the joints to their full capacity. Tai chi is, in 4 words, slow, smooth, soft and stable. Participants are encouraged to never move to the point of pain, and to rest whenever needed. There is absolutely no judgement in tai chi. Every class progresses at its own rate.

Also, tai chi doesn't vary a lot , week-to-week, like yoga classes. We get full body exercise in every class. We build on the forms we already know, modifying and improving them, deepening our understanding, adding in deeper breathing, and smoother, softer movements and also learn new ones.

In Suzie's class, tai chi starts with a warm up, slowly moving the joints. Then there's the review part of class to practice in the current form they're learning, clearing up any problems. Then it's time to learn the next movement, broken down to small bits to assist learning, and practice the new form several times. Questions are welcomed and addressed.

Students end the hour with Qi Gong exercises, relaxing, energy producing movements, where students simply follow the instructor, meant to relax and cool down the muscles and joints and aid our transition to the rest of the day.

aubrey bates