Tai chi and qigong are linked but separate. I like to describe qigong as the base of the Chinese health system, like the roots and truck of a tree, and tai chi as one of the branches. Other branches of the tree include traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, qigong healing, qigong meditation, qigong exercises, and more.

The Chinese term Qigong is also known as chi gong, chi kung, daoyin, nei gong and yang sheng. Our qi or chi (chee) has several meanings: the air we breathe, our life force or vital energy. Gong can be translated as an accomplishment or a skill that is cultivated through practice.

Qigong means energy cultivation or working with the life force energy. Qigong is thousands of years old and mostly referred to as an ancient Chinese holistic exercise system; coordinating movements with breathing and meditations practised for health maintenance, healing and increasing vitality, to cultivate and balance your qi. There are also qigong healing practitioners.

Tai chi (taiji) is the modern-day slang for tai chi chuan (ultimate supreme exercise). Tai chi is often described as a “meditation in motion” and now even referred to as “medication in motion”. It is a Chinese martial art that is hundreds of years old and is one of the most effective exercises for the health of mind and body.

Tai chi offers great depth but can be easy to learn and delivers health benefits quickly. There are many styles of tai chi, each with its own features, sharing the same essential principles unique to tai chi: mind integrated with the body; fluidity of movement; control of breathing; and mental concentration.

The fundamental focus of tai chi and qigong is to enable the qi to flow smoothly and powerfully through the body, facilitating wellbeing. Harmony of the inner and outer self comes from the integration of mind and body and is achieved through ongoing practice.

Tai chi and qigong are becoming more popular for many reasons. Medical studies worldwide show that tai chi and qigong have almost unlimited health benefits, including giving people the confidence and curiosity to ‘give it a go’. We are living longer, and we now acknowledge that the quality of our life, and specifically maintaining long-term good health both mentally and physically, are very important.

Studies have shown that the benefits of tai chi and qigong for mindfulness and fitness include:

  • improvement and prevention of almost all chronic conditions, including arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes
  • being able to practise anywhere… standing, seated, lying down or in the water – no equipment required
  • being suitable for almost any age or physical condition
  • improved fitness (increased muscular strength, cardio-respiratory fitness, improved immune system and flexibility)
  • improved balance and mobility and less risk of falls
  • increased relaxation and focus, meaning reduced stress
  • improved mental health and wellbeing.

Tamara Bennett is a master trainer at Tai Chi for Health Institute in Auckland.

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