The Difference Between Tai Chi and Qigong

A prospective student asked the studio not long ago what the difference was between tai chi and qigong.  I probably should have addressed this question earlier so people answering the phones would have a ready answer.  But since experience is a thing you don’t get until right after you need it, here we are.

The short answer is that tai chi is a martial art and qigong is not.

The long answer is that qigong refers to any of a large number of exercises that are often slow and gentle (sometimes even standing still), but which can also be very dynamic and challenging.  Many qigong “sets” are so arranged as to work all the muscles and tendons in the body from head-to-foot, and the breathing is often coordinated with the exercise itself.

Tai chi is a fighting art which, practiced slowly and with active intent & attention, enhances balance, flexibility, lower body strength, poise, confidence and awareness.  We do qigong in our classes as a warmup to learning tai chi.  Unlike qigong, the focus is on movement and awareness of the entire body as a coordinated unit, and while the breathing is relaxed, deep and contemplative, it is not coordinated to the action when we practice – we just breathe naturally.

The two are somewhat related and share many of the same benefits, but they’re different things.  The postures and transitions of tai chi can be performed as qigong exercises, but not the other way ‘round.

In other words, tai chi is qigong, but qigong is not tai chi, in exactly the same way as Western boxing is a good cardio workout, but cardio isn’t necessarily boxing.