People looking to improve their health are often confused.
Many people ask, “Which is better, Qigong or Yoga?” There is an information overload on the internet about everything health related — diet, exercise, sleep, coffee, sex, medication, etc. Mind-Body modalities are no different. Everybody seems to have an opinion as to what is the “right” thing for you to do with your body. Ultimately, this is a decision you must make. It really depends on the context of your life circumstance and needs.
If you are wondering what Mind-Body modality, Qigong or Yoga, may be best for you, this brief article will be helpful. It will save you precious time, and help you focus your research and experimentation into the best Mind-Body modality for you — Qigong or Yoga? As a certified Qigong, Tai Chi, and Martial Arts instructor (as well as a Yoga practitioner) I have condensed this issue into its bare essentials.
Below are simple, straightforward tips and information to help you navigate through the forest of all the noise:
How Are Qigong and Yoga the Same?
Qigong is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine and goes back 10,000 years. Its roots lie in the Shamanic traditions that first appeared in the ancient Yellow River Basin where Chinese civilization began. Acupuncture is a step-daughter of Qigong. Its goals are identical to Qigong. Acupuncture uses the needles to redirect the flow of “Qi” (Bio-electric Energy) through blockages. Qigong uses the mind. All the tools of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or “T.C.M.,” (herbs, massage, acupuncture, Qigong, etc.) work towards moving and building your bodies “Qi.” Qigong and food are the chief ways to do this within TCM.
Qigong is part of a larger lifestyle change, that includes diet, finding life balance, and adapting to the seasons of life — as well as the yearly weather cycles. Qigong is connected philosophically with Daoism (or “Taoism”) and has a strong emphasis on flowing with nature and its cycles. There is a strong emphasis on acceptance, adapting, and having an open mind and heart when encountering the inevitable changes of life.
What About Yoga?
Likewise, Yoga is an ancient practice and thousands of years old. It comes from the Hindu tradition of the Indus River Civilization in Northern India. Later, it was refined by the priestly class, the Brahmans. References to Yoga are found in early Hindu Scriptures. Yoga and its manipulation of breath (“prana”) are key components of the holistic health tradition of India, called “Ayurveda.” Like TCM, diet, lifestyle, breathing, and body movements are key tools.
Yoga, as one part of the larger “science of living” called Ayurveda, emphasizes movement, adaptation to environment, and a focused meditative lifestyle. Ayurveda, like TCM, places a massive emphasis on diet and moving with seasonal changes. Yoga is a key tool to maintain balance and health in one’s body and mind. Philosophically, Yoga is embedded in the religious traditions of Hinduism. Like Qigong and Daoism, Yoga and Hinduism are linked when you get beyond the physical movements to the foundational philosophies underlying each modality.
Both Qigong and Yoga can be practiced as merely physical exercises, apart from their philosophical and religious roots and heritages. This is generally how they are practiced in the West. People who get deeply inspired by these practices often want to dig deeper to understand the “why” behind the “what.” Both practices are rich in their philosophy and tradition. Both Qigong and Yoga are holistic and fit into a larger picture of moving in harmony within the natural world.
How Are Qigong and Yoga Different?
Qigong generally takes less time than Yoga. An average Qigong session can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes (an average). For example, in my book, “Qigong: The Quick & Easy Start Up Guide,” there are no Qigong exercises over 7 minutes in length. Most Qigong practitioners do a routine of anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes a day.
Yoga generally is more of a commitment of time. I have never been to a Yoga class shorter than an hour. You stretch, prep, lay out the mat, get into the “asana” (Yoga posture), then cool down. This length of time is not good or bad, it is just different from Qigong. While there are some sets of Yoga “asanas,” or postures, that run from 20 to 30 minutes and can be done alone, most practice are at least 60 to 90 minutes in teacher led classes.
Solo or Group Practice?
Qigong practice is often solo, with periodic group classes. Often students will start with a group class (maybe once a week) and then practice most days by themselves. Though I teach group classes, this is the pattern I have seen most often in my 16 years of teaching Qigong and Tai Chi. Though Qigong students do take classes, in the West at least, Qigong students generally engage in solo work, more so than in group settings.
Yoga practice often occurs within a class structure. This is why students will often sign up with Yoga studios for a monthly package, and then attend the group class as often as they can. Students absorb the teacher’s instruction. There, they join their “tribe.” It reminds me of the atmosphere of many martial arts classes I have attended over the years. The group behavior and communal setting reinforces the student’s individual behavioral changes.
Qigong is about breathing deep while flowing. It tends to involve less flexing and muscular strength. This is why it is so great for people with auto-immune disorders or limited mobility. You can take Qigong right up to your limit and teachers can often guide students on how to adapt the movements to their strength capacity and range of movement.
I have encouraged tired or strained students in my classes to sit and mimic the movements in a seated position. That is how easy it is to adapt. In essence, Qigong is a very mild exercise which is more forgiving on the joints and muscles.
Yoga is more about holding a stance, holding your ground, and breathing into that. There are “relaxing” movements and poses where you lie on the ground. A few styles even emphasis this restorative or gentle yoga. Yet, in the West, the movements tend to lean more towards a ‘calisthenics” type of feel.
Ironically, Yoga is now the number one cause of sports injuries in the United States. This is not due to anything intrinsically wrong with Yoga. In the West, we come from a tradition of competition and “pushing ourselves.” In India, Yoga teachers generally tell students to exert to only 70% of their capacity. We have a hard time with that in the West. We OVER exert, attempting to achieve our “Yoga Butt” or “Yoga Abs.”
Qigong focuses on stress reduction, mental concentration, and is a “moving meditation.” Qigong uses the mind, imagination, and gentle movements to move energy through the body. Qigong can brings a drop in blood pressure and enhances circulation. It is profoundly calming.
Yoga focuses on breathing into a fixed posture, which can often be challenging or a strain, not unlike calisthenics. It certainly places more emphasis on breathing and concentration than Western calisthenics. But, most the classes I have attended are closer to “workouts” than “moving meditation.” Even with though in the background there may be groovy New Age music, rather than the Heavy Metal music playing in a gym, you still leave the class in a sweat. The benefits of greater flexibility, strength, and body awareness are profound.
Which is Best for Me, Qigong or Yoga?
Is your primary goal is to lose weight, tone your muscles, increase your flexibility, and make friends? Explore some Yoga classes. Is your schedule is such that you can allocate an hour at least a few days a week? Do you thrive in group environments, and have the basic physical health, strength, and mobility to hold the postures? Yoga may be a good place to start. The practice is wonderful and millions of people on earth do it. And their health improves as a result.
If your primary goal is to decrease your stress, improve your circulation, breathing, and mental focus explore Qigong. Do you have limited time in your schedule? Or, limited time for your employees to participate in a healthy Mind-Body practice? Qigong may be a good place to start. If you struggle with mobility, endurance, or have some pain when you move, Qigong is generally more mild. Millions of people practice it daily and benefit.
Which is better, Qigong or Yoga?
Neither. They are both great. They both lead to greater health and body awareness, which our generation desperately needs. We can take the trains on different tracks to get the same destination. Qigong (AKA “Chinese Yoga”) and Yoga are sisters. Which one should you date? That is your decision based on your goals, limitations, and disposition. Each of these paths will lead you to a better place in your health, mindset and lifestyle.