Yoga and qigong are both ancient practices. Yoga comes from the Indian tradition while qigong is Chinese in its heritage. Both are also movement practices, though their movements are generally different in function. Yoga tends to be moderate to fast-paced, includes strong movements that are held for a period of time and requires a certain amount of athleticism. Qigong, on the other hand, is slowly methodical, flows from one movement to another, and can be easily practiced by nearly anyone.
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Meditative State Before or After Movements
One of the main health benefits of both yoga and qigong is that they both support a meditative state. Yoga uses movements to get there, while qigong creates the meditative state before movements. According to the book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to T'ai Chi and Qigong" by author Bill Douglas, qigong's goal is to bring enlightened awareness into your physical life, while yoga takes you to a place of peace. Each has the same outcome but by a different avenue.
Static vs. Flowing Postures
Another difference between yoga and qigong is that yoga primarily consists of static poses while qigong has flowing postures. Douglas notes that the flowing postures of qigong may be more beneficial as a model for life, since it teaches practitioners how to stay focused even as outer aspects change. At the same time, yoga postures are better for athletic development and deepening strength, as many of the poses require muscle activity.
Yoga and qigong also require different clothing, which may matter depending on your body size and how comfortable you are with your body. As Suzanne B. Friedman notes in the book, "Heal Yourself with Qigong," qigong does not require that you wear special clothing when you practice. Clothing for this practice tends to be looser in general. Yoga clothing, however, is normally more fitted to the body, which may feel constrictive or uncomfortable, thus possibly taking away from the health benefits of the practice.
Qigong Improves Balance
Another health benefit of qigong is that almost all of its movements help improve balance, while yoga only has a few movements focused on balance. The standing motion of qigong constantly challenges your balance. If you suffer from disorientation, vertigo or eye conditions related to imbalance, qigong may be a more beneficial practice for you than yoga.