The two major health giving disciplines from the East that have been fully embraced by the west in modern times are Tai Chi and Yoga.
What do these on the surface very different forms of exercise share in common and how are they different? Which one would be best suited for you, I hope this article allows you to make an informed choice?
Western type exercise, Yoga and Tai Chi, the difference.
The recent rise in sports centres and health clubs in the west could be said to spring from the increased Leisure time that we all now enjoy thanks to the machines. With the car at the door you no longer have to walk far, central heating means we no longer collect and chop wood and fruit and vegetables, well why grow them in the first place when you don’t have to pick it you can click it and it’s delivered to your door step? We Westerners used to get all the exercise that we could take just by performing the common chore and the daily task, now we must go to expensive health clubs to sweat and feel the pain or risk becoming fat and lazy.
Both Tai Chi and Yoga are designed to bring about a unity between the mind and the body.Hath a yoga was originally practiced as preparation for seated meditation, it changes the mind and can even cure depression. The slowed down movements of the Tai Chi form can slow down the over active mind by bring us more fully into the here and now and away from the mental chatter. Both of these Eastern imports work on the mind body and spirit, unlike western exercise with its countless repetitions monotonously putting the body alone through its paces, in a machine like way.
On your feet or on the deck and how much space have you got?
For some people the fact that Tai Chi is done standing up and that they don’t have to get down on the floor is a big advantage, with certain health issues just getting down and up from the ground can be off putting or impossible. Because Tai Chi can be performed on an uneven or not fully dry surface means that it is more suited to being done in the great outdoors, a more natural and healthy environment for any exercise.
Yoga does not require the same amount of room that is needed for doing the Tai Chi forms, if there is enough room for your mat you can get on with it. Although short and more compact Tai Chi forms have been designed in recent times for Westerners if you are being taught an older long form you will need a fair amount of space.
Seasoned Veterans with a lot of experiance.
When I first went to a Yoga class thirty years ago, there were even then teachers with twenty years practice under their belt. Iyengar Yoga in particular seemed to be blessed with many veteran teachers who had been quietly getting on with it for a long time and really knew their onions. Although until relevantly recently Hong Kong was a British colony with a significant part of the population practicing Tai Chi in full public view every morning, Britain, until recent times perhaps, did not generally have the same wealth of highly experienced Tai Chi teachers that Yoga has enjoyed for many years. Unlike other martial arts Tai Chi has no belt system, the, I trained in China, qualification should be questioned, was it a two week holiday? I once had two weeks in Majorca but did not master Spanish, learning things properly takes time as we all know.
Although Yoga classes tend to still be filled in the main with women it’s not as if men have not got a role model to encourage them into giving Yoga a try. Sting, the good for his age famous pop star makes no secret of his regular practice of Yoga and he looks in good shape for his effort to. He also makes no secret, to the point of bragging, of how Tantric Yoga has greatly improved his sex life, you would think that would make any bloke curious!
If Yoga needed to be Spiced up any further than this we have now had Geri Yoga, maybe after a certain age you need more than Girl Power!
Tai Chi has not been blessed at this time, or for the purists cursed, with celebrity endorsement. Which famous face will bring Tai Chi more fully into the public glare, many wait with baited breath? Apart from Patrick Swayze, seen doing the Yang form in the film Road House, the big names in the Tai Chi scene are unknown to the public. It does not help possibly that the big names in Tai Chi sometimes begin with an X and I can’t pronounce them myself!
Religion and an art hijacked by the New Age movement.
Yoga can stand tall and proud in its own right, it’s health benefits, both mental and physical, are proven, but still it is not always free of cultural and religious packaging. I know of one person who traveled to France from England to do an intensive Yoga residential course that carried with it a hefty financial investment. Imagine his discomfort, to put it mildly at being expected to bow on his knees and place flowers, to a picture of a smiling Guru that he did not know. The course also involved a lot of chanting and readings from the Sutras, delivered by less than adept public speakers, my friend left the course early deeply disillusioned.
Tai Chi was for a long time hijacked by the New Age movement. Demonstrations of Tai Chi were given at Natural living festivals by teachers with questionable skill who often looked like John Lennon. Somehow these New Age Tai Chi teachers were seen as more spiritual than say a kick boxing instructor, maybe because they didn’t have to get in a ring and prove themselves? There between the stand selling crystals and the booth for aura reading they transcended the earthly plane. With regular bi annual visits from Chinese Tai Chi masters this situation is changing although the language barrier can still get in the way, a far greater understanding of Tai Chi exists today than was the case some years ago.
Tai Chi is not a soft option
It could be Aerobics Pilates or Yoga, women undertaking these activities are prepared to suffer in order to look good. In fact, like dieting the pain is part of the entertainment and a regular point of discussion with friends. Just as riders recount their most dramatic falls from a horse so too are the most sadistic extreme exercise classes discussed, giving at least as much again in pleasure as they gave in pure pain. Some older people are not immune to this law of Yin and Yang that if you take something to the extreme it becomes it’s opposite, extreme pain becomes pleasure. Have you ever heard what the ramblers say, it’s not worth getting your boots dirty if you do not do at least eleven miles!!! I must be missing something here because I’ve had pleasant even memorable walks of far less than that but, the real bliss apparently starts after eleven miles!
Many people see Tai Chi as a soft option and at first that seems to be the case but not if you want to get good at it. A posture like the crow in yoga promises pain as soon as you look at it, a sort of legs off the ground press up held at the most painful bit, I must admit I always really liked the crow! Well I just have to say in all honesty once the honeymoon period is over, Tai Chi is not a soft option.
How far do you want to go?
Both the physical side of Yoga and of Tai Chi are only the outer shell of philosophy’s that are very profound. Tai Chi from China is the product of a civilisation that goes back continually since the time of ancient Egypt. Yoga is an expression of the Vedic tradition which is extremely rich in wisdom. Just as exercise systems both Yoga and Tai Chi will with regular practice give you a more pliant and relaxed body which will really improve your health. The greatest form of relaxation however comes through a deep mental understanding of ourselves and the world. Behind the physical side of both these arts are great oceans of wisdom, how far do you want to go?