The difference between Tai Chi and Qigong

People often ask me, “What is the difference between Tai Chi & Qigong?”

These ancient, multi-layered arts deserve a much deeper study than this newsletter can provide. But here is a good start to a general understanding of how Tai Chi and Qigong are similar and how they differ, and to consider some of the vast scope of body-mind-energy development they offer.

In both arts, as practitioners progress, the potential for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual cultivation is steadily realised. Tai Chi and Qigong are ever deepening, with body, heart and mind being continually refined in development of energy and consciousness.

The arts, with their soft flowing circular forms, shares a number of training principles such as: attention to postural alignment; gentle stretching and articulation of the joints; soft stretches and relaxation of large and small muscles along with the organ fascia and connective tissues; lightly energising the glands; regulating the nervous system; balancing emotional energy; focusing and calming of the mind; inner sensing and deepening awareness; and accessing a witness consciousness, in action.

However, while Tai Chi and Qigong share many foundational principles and training methods, and there is a broad overlap in features and benefits, these arts do have unique characteristics and are often practiced for different reasons.


Qigong is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, with a primary focus on the cultivation of vital life energy to improve and maintain good health. Its smooth flowing forms increase and regulate energy circulation throughout the meridians to benefit the health of the organs and nourish every tissue in the body. Every cell is regenerated with Qi breathing, positive intention and radiant energy to promote vitality, wisdom and happiness.

Qigong techniques build energy in the three Dantien Centres – body, heart and mind. The aim of Qigong practice is to nourish the spirit and foster longevity. This doesn’t mean trying to live longer in this physical body, but to maintain good health throughout our advanced years and preserve and transform vital life energy.

In Qigong this is known as cultivating the 3 Treasures – Jing (congenital essence), Qi (lifeforce, vitality) and Shen (spirit, mind, consciousness). Our intention in Qigong practice is to progressively anchor ourselves in present-moment consciousness. Integration of the body, breath and mind harmonises the 3 Dantien and brings us into present time, and into oneness with nature. Long term practice opens us to awareness of our transcendent being – that which is eternal.

The Qigong system is less complex to understand and perform than Tai Chi, making it easier to learn. Exercises are practiced mostly in a standing posture, each being repeated multiple times. This allows more time to study the deeply energising and healing breathwork coordinated with the moves. Qigong practice develops the foundational work for Tai Chi and is traditionally studied first before progressing to Tai Chi.


Tai Chi incorporates many principles and benefits of Qigong movements and extends these into a broad array of martial style forms which are precisely structured to harness and deliver force through the body and beyond. The same body mechanics and economy of movement which can serve a martial application, increase energy circulation and build internal strength for developing good health and vitality.

Tai Chi evolves from a solo practice to become interactive – engaging another in one’s personal energy field. The system involves increasing energy flow and storing power to then transmit outward beyond the body in dialogue with another. This includes relational aspects such as: advancing and retreating; asserting and yielding; giving and receiving; and blending and harmonising with external forces. With this comes the opportunity for self-reflection as our character structure and behavioural tendencies are revealed in relationship with others.

In martial application, the individual moves of the Tai Chi Form have several layers. The first and most basic level is the function of blocking an attack and delivering a counter strike.

The second and more complex level is the art of Chin Na – the application of joint manipulations to control an attacker’s body, often culminating in a lock-up to inhibit their ability to move.

The third level is the most subtle and harmonious. It involves issuing a wave of Qi power. Techniques are employed to blend with an incoming force, off-balance the attacker, and neutralise and redirect their force. This approach offers a benign self-defence move which merely wards off an attack, harmonising with and leading their force until they lose balance, relinquish their aggression and eventually retreat.

I am trained in the third level – although in saying this, it is broadly accepted that in this tradition one lifetime is not nearly enough to understand it’s many subtle layers and master the art, and my mere 35 years of internal martial arts with 25 years training in this particular lineage, means I still have a long way to go.

The third level approach of Tai Chi goes far beyond developing the above skills. Advanced Tai Chi offers a systematic approach to deepening and focusing awareness in free flowing movement, which is a traditional science of the mind – an authentic meditation in motion. Through practices of deep mind awareness integrated with deep mind intention, what is known in Tai Chi as deep mind intelligence is cultivated. This promotes stillness and an expanding field of consciousness which includes realisation that we are not a body with a mind inside, but a vast consciousness which contains a body. Tai Chi cultivates the body, heart and mind in harmonious relationship with ourselves, with others and with the natural world, and understanding that we are not separate, from each other and from the universe.

So both arts ultimately lead to the same place and which to train depends on your character and what best suits your lifestyle. Qigong offers a more relaxed and heart-focused approach to good health and all-inclusive awareness. Tai Chi, along with its many health benefits, is in essence a warrior art, with deeper aspects of the mind and focused power, to likewise arrive at eternal consciousness – what is referred to in many spiritual traditions as ‘that which never dies’.

As you can see, Tai Chi is more complex than Qigong and requires regular commitment and further practice sessions between each class. Hence this art is offered as a term enrolment as casual attendance would make learning just too difficult. Both arts are intended for daily practice, in order to access the higher states of mind proposed above. The rewards of both systems however far outweigh the efforts in learning and each provides an intriguing and satisfying lifetime practice. Link to classes page