Qigong and Tai Chi are some of the oldest continuously practiced healing systems in the world and are very effective at restoring health. These classical art forms are based on the cyclical flow of vital energy. Asian cultures call this energy Qi, and map its flow through our bodies along pathways called meridians.
HOW QIGONG & TAI CHI WORK
Strictly speaking, “Tai Chi,” which you might see written as t’ai chi, or taijii, means “grand ultimate.” “Tai Chi Chuan” (t’ai chi ch’uan, taijiquan) means “grand ultimate fist,” and is usually used in the context of martial arts. Qigong (qi gong, chi kung, chi gung) means “exercise”.
Historically, Tai Chi was derived from Qigong. There are several versions of Tai Chi, while there are thousands of Qigong variations. Both Tai Chi and Qigong are based on the Chinese medical term “chi,” (qi) which can be loosely translated as “energy,” and which informs the classical Chinese medical practice of acupuncture. Acupuncture, now popular around the world, seeks to remove blockages in somatic channels called “meridians,” through which qi energy (or “life force”) flows. Qigong also focuses on qi energy, enabling it to circulate more efficiently, freely and usefully. It’s second objective is to establish a balance between the Taoist cosmic polarities of Yin and Yang forces, inherent in all beings, situations and movement. Balancing, or harmonizing, these forces, along with “nurturing” and smoothing the circulation of qi, can calm one’s mind and spirit, promote a feeling of oneness with nature, improve health, flexibility, stamina, strength and increase longevity.
With both Qigong and Tai Chi, virtually all the benefits listed above—most of which are inborn but unrealized to their full potential—can be developed through the study of either discipline. Quite simply, Tai Chi is an extension of Qigong.
While there are far more similarities than differences between the two, there is one major difference: The study of Tai Chi (more exactly, Tai Chi Chuan) endows one with a unique set of techniques (based, as is Qigong, on qi flow and Taoist yin/yang theory) that can be used in hand-to-hand combat and for purposes of self defense. Tai Chi's origin and growth in China was intertwined with war and conflict between factions and potentates through the ages before the invention of gun powder. Hence its renown, even up to the current day, as a martial art. So, those who study with the goal of learning a fighting technique for self defense will be taught one or more Tai Chi “forms” (movement sequences) that, over time, will vastly improve their internal power, application, and skills. This is not to say that students who learn these forms and go on to develop martial skills (through the study of weapons forms and Push Hands—a two-person sparring exercise) will in any way be forgoing the prodigious rewards of Qigong, which include improved balance, coordination and blood circulation, deeper breathing, tranquility, sensitivity, concentration, digestion, bone density and athleticism. These secondary benefits put tai chi in a class by itself among the various martial arts. It is an “internal,” as opposed to “external,” art, and is as effective in promoting organ health and longevity as in strengthening the body’s fundamental framework.
Notwithstanding the fact that Tai Chi is more outer-directed than Qigong because it cultivates the projection of force outside the body in order to counter and surpass that of another individual, the internal power from which this force is derived is part and parcel of Qigong. So Tai Chi can be correctly considered to be Qigong. In fact, an ideal path to the mastery of Tai Chi fighting techniques would begin with the study of Qigong to engender the sensation of qi; and the continuance of Qigong exercises while practicing Tai Chi effectively enhances one’s understanding and ability. Of course, when practicing Tai Chi one is practicing Qigong as well.
Two of the most commonly heard guiding principles at any legitimate Tai Chi school are “relax” and “sink the chi.” Truly mastering these essential prerequisites are necessary for effective practice. They are at the heart of Tai Chi but they can be learned through Qigong, which illustrates the similarity of the two teachings. Practicing a Tai Chi solo form is equivalent to engaging in Qigong exercises. Both demand a similar upright body position with the head “suspended” from above, the chest relaxed, the back engaged and qi, or internal energy, sunk to a point below the waist. These are just a few of the identical postural requirements that proper Tai Chi and Qigong trainings share.
Both Tai Chi and Qigong tap into what can be thought of as an individual’s “life force,” which exists in all of us, but which lies essentially dormant in most of us when it comes to practical applications. Perhaps the most important application is the great medicinal potential of this life force as a preventative and healing agent in the maintenance of good health (see “SHOW ME THE PROOF”).
Want to stay young or regain more youthful energy and appearance? Practice Tai Chi or Qigong or both. They both work via movements that promote the enhancement of this force—this life-giving, life-sustaining internal energy, the abundance of which provides a feeling of vitality and strength. When it is flowing smoothly and freely it can assist with resolving an injury, unlike external exercises such as weight lifting.
Qigong exercises can zero in on specific weaknesses and areas of illness, such as the lungs or heart, while tai chi spreads the healing flow evenly throughout the body. Qigong is devoid of fighting techniques, however, it can suffuse the body with the strength and energy needed to perform them, so it is a natural energy booster for any time of day or any situation and can clear the mind and regenerate one’s focus.
In short, the existence of internal energy allows its cultivation through the practice of Qigong and Tai Chi, which, in turn, increases it. It’s no wonder that the circle is such a powerful symbol of the nature of these relaxed, gentle, amazing arts.
Under the heading “Tai Chi’s Synergy with Sports,” The Harvard Medical Guide states, “Tai Chi training can help you develop the physical attributes and inner strength that you can apply to sports…"
Top athletes in competitive sports have discovered the benefits of Tai Chi:
Former Boston Celtics star Robert Parish, who played in the National Basketball Association for 17 seasons, credited Tai Chi for his durability.
Professional golfer Tiger Woods studied Qigong as a child, which his college golf coach at Stanford University believes may have contributed to his mental toughness and ability to hit a golf ball so far, and
Olympic gold medal winner Ted Liggety “was the most avid Tai Chi student among the members of the US Men’s Alpine Ski team.”
A special thanks to Sifu Dimitri Mougdis and JC for the literature research and review, and JC for summarizing the findings and creating the written material for which this section is based. JC is a student at Dimitri's Internal Arts Institute, a weblink is available in the resource section.