Mind-body exercises aren't all the same. Yoga and Tai Chi may look like they share many moves and benefits, but the practices differ in execution.
While the two forms of exercises are both Eastern in origin, yoga hails originally from India, while Tai Chi is of Chinese origin. Tai Chi is actually a martial art, while yoga is an entire lifestyle practice. Both aim to improve your health, longevity and mental health, but have different physical approaches. Take up either as part of your exercise regimen to experience enhancement of your well being.
What These Disciplines Involve
Tai Chi is a "healing" martial art, explains a 2017 article in Evidence-Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. It combines the precise, dynamic movements of martial arts with breathing and stretching. The standing dance-like movements direct and cultivate very particular energy systems to offer physiological benefits.
Yoga also incorporates the breath as a tool to help make you mindful in your movements. Exercises can be static or flowing, muscular or more passive. The practice has physical, mental and spiritual approaches designed to improve your overall health. Poses can be done standing or seated, and are sometimes quite challenging.
Read More: 13 Reasons to Start Practicing Yoga
Yoga and Tai Chi can improve your ability to concentrate and potentially perform complex tasks. A study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2010 combined Tai Chi and yoga into one class, beginning with Tai Chi forms and progressing to seated and reclined yoga postures. The subjects' heart rates, brain waves and ability to perform math computations were studied pre- and post-class.
After the 20-minute class, an EEG (which detects brain waves) and EKG (which measures heart patterns) recorded a more relaxed state. The participants were also more skilled and speedy when completing the math problems. This suggests that the relaxation brought about by the mind-body exercises improve overall mental performance.
Balance becomes an important health consideration as you age. A fall in your older years can lead to broken limbs and severe injuries that lead to infirmity and even early death. Both yoga and Tai Chi improve balance in older adults, simultaneously reducing pain and improving quality of life, demonstrated by a study in Contemporary Nurse in 2014.
This study examined the effects of these two exercise systems on adults in a residential care facility and found that both had similar implications for balance and quality of life. Yoga did have a slight edge in improving balance and reducing pain; while those in Tai Chi reported overall better life quality.
Cancer Treatment and Recovery
Both Tai Chi and yoga can play a positive role during cancer treatment and recovery. The benefits are similar, explained a review of research published in Oncology and Hematology Review in 2014.
Tai Chi relieved the side effects of treatment for cancer patients and improved their muscular function. It also contributed to enhancements in their cardiopulmonary function, body composition, bone metabolism and immune function. Better memory and attention were other positive benefits.
Yoga had positive impacts on overall quality of life and treatment tolerance. The practice also enhanced sleep and mood in cancer patients undergoing radiation.
High blood pressure puts you at greater risk of heart attack and stroke. Health professionals often recommend lifestyle modifications, specifically stress reduction and exercise, to help manage the condition.
Research shows that a regular Tai Chi practice can reduce blood pressure, reported a review in Preventative Cardiology in 2008. Yoga also has research behind its blood pressure-lowering potential. A review in Holistic Nursing Practice published in 2014 demonstrated that yoga therapy effectively reduced high blood pressure and also reduces blood glucose levels, cholesterol levels and body weight.
Read More: How to Do Tai Chi for Beginners
Overall Wellness and Mental Health
Tai Chi and yoga reduce stress and improve markers of physical health. Tai Chi is slow, deliberate and suitable for most fitness levels, but it still can contribute to muscle strength, balance, flexibility and, to some degree, aerobic fitness.
Yoga, too, can be modified to fit just about any fitness level. Flowing practices can also mildly raise your heart rate and challenge your musculoskeletal system. Improved balance and flexibility are a given with regular yoga practice.
Both practices enhance your immune system and reduced markers of inflammation, reported a review of 39 studies published in PLoS One in 2014. People who do either yoga or Tai Chi, especially older adults, also report better mood, sleep and mental health. You can't go wrong with either practice.