So what’s the difference between Qigong and Tai Chi?

When I start talking about my love of Tai Chi and Qigong – I often get asked “What’s the difference?”

This question can be answered in a number of ways. While an instinctive reaction may be to look for differences, it is important to first understand that both Qigong and Tai Chi share a common history going back thousands of years.

Both Qigong and Tai Chi focus on cultivating the ‘Qi’ (also spelt ‘Chi’) which is the life energy that flows through the body’s energy pathways by combining movement, breathing and meditation. They both have the same basic property (Qi), the same fundamental principle (relaxation), and the same fundamental method (slowness). However, whereas Qigong stems from the practice of cultivating Qi primarily for health practices and goes back several thousand years, Tai Chi has more of a background in the martial arts with the most popular modern forms only dating back around 700 years.

Interestingly, early Qigong forms were preceded by the practice of Daoyin which was practised in Chinese Taoist monasteries for health and spiritual cultivation. Daoyin is also said to be a primary formative ingredient in the well-known "soft styles" of the Chinese martial arts of ‘Taiji quan’ (also known as ‘shadow boxing’ or ‘moving meditation with fists’.  The main goal of Daoyin is to create flexibility of the mind, hence creating harmony between internal and external environments to relax, replenish and rejuvenate the body, developing in its practitioners a vital and healthy spirit.

Daoyin Qigong movements are thousands of years old.  The picture above is a reconstruction of a scroll found in an ancient tomb in 1973. The silk painting shows coloured drawings of 44 figures in standing and sitting postures performing Daoyin exercises.  Daoyin Qigong supports internal massage of the organs and benefits muscle tendons and ligaments.

Our two College Masters have introduced us to many forms of Qigong. This has also included the Dao Yin Qigong which consists of 16 specific exercises – 8 named after animal movements, and 8 based on movements of the universe and past sages.  Some other popular Qigong routines include the Lotus exercise, a beautiful but simple routine which is always part of our warmup at regular classes. Some others, with links to past articles, include the Lohan Qigong, the Yi Jin Jing Daoyin Qigong, the Ba Duan Jin Qigong, the 6 Healing Sounds Qigong, the 12 Step Qigong,  the Mawang Dui Qigong, the 'Da Wu' (Great Dance) Qigong, the 'Dayan' (Wild Goose) Qigong, and the 5 Animals Qigong.

There are many other forms of Qigong that use pushing, pulling, stretching - both standing and even seated. The Shibashi Qigong which consists of three sets – each containing 18 movements – is a wonderful example.   Qigong movements focus on coordinated breathing and stretching - as we twist, turn, pull and push.  We repeat each movement four, six or maybe eight times

While the number of Qigong forms is very large, the number of Tai Chi forms is more limited. Although some older traditional styles date back thousands of years, most modern styles that are now practiced trace their historical origins back to the Chen Village - when the Chen style was first developed around 1670.

All modern Tai Chi styles trace their development to the five traditional Tai Chi schools - Chen, Yang, Wu (Hao), Wu, and Sun.  Chen was the first style developed and is characterised by contrasting and complimentary movements, slow and soft versus fast and hard, and contains explosive power and low stances.

As the Chen style was considered by some in the early days to be rather difficult and physically demanding, a modified version was developed by Yang Lu-chan with more gentle and slow movements and higher stances.  These modifications made it much more suitable for more people and subsequently became know as the Yang style, which was preferred and widely adopted in western countries. The Celestial Tai Chi College’s foundational routine is based on the Yang-108 routine of the Yang style.

In closing, we recall a quote from Senior Master Chin Min when teaching us the 12 step Daoyin Qigong, saying that with constant slow movement “…running water never gets stale, and a moving hinge will never rust”.  In other words, constant deliberate movement coordinated with breath keeps us from premature ageing.

Instructors Noel and Yvonne Schmidt
Ashburton Tai Chi Centre

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Updated: 23 June 2021