If you’re beginning a deep dive into the world of mindfulness and spirituality, you’ve likely heard of both Yoga and Qigong, and wondered if there was any real difference between the two. Are they interchangeable? Is one better than the other?
The answer is that, yes, there’s a difference– but which one you decide to practice depends on who you are! One of these ancient practices may suit you better, or you may find that you’d like to try both. Let’s get into the similarities and differences between Yoga and Qigong, so that you can discover which one will serve your journey best.
Key similarities between Qigong & Yoga
Key similarity 1: Both Qigong and Yoga originate from ancient Eastern spiritual traditions, and are over five thousand years old, although their countries of origin vary.
Key similarity 2: As such, both traditions are far more than just exercise; Qigong and Yoga alike assist the practitioner in moving into a meditative state, and both traditions accomplish this via some combination of mindful breath and movement.
Key similarity 3: Going a bit deeper, both of these ancient practices originally accompanied a form of Eastern medicine. In many cases, they still do, although Yoga has begun to be used as more of a fitness trend in the West. Although the lines of Eastern medicine that these practices originated from have different names, they both incorporate many of the same ideas.
For example, both Yoga and Qigong work to cleanse and clear one’s energy; in Yogic tradition, this “energy” is known as Prana, while Qigong calls it Qi or Chi.
Key differences between Qigong and Yoga
To follow from the above point, there are a few key differences between Yoga and Qigong.
Key difference 1: First of all, Yoga accompanies Ayurveda, whereas Qigong accompanies Chinese medicine; furthermore, Yoga and Ayurveda originate from India, while Qigong comes from China.
Key difference 2: Another primary difference is that Yoga, although it contains a structure of mindful breath paired with movement, is focused on building muscle. In fact, Yoga was originally created to develop a practitioner’s muscles so that he or she could comfortably practice seated meditation for hours on end.
Qigong, on the other hand, has less of a muscular focus. Its movements tend to be both more flowing and physically easier to practice.
Key difference 3: This leads to another variation between Yoga and Qigong: those who aren’t physically fit or who have certain injuries or physical setbacks may struggle to practice more than the most basic Yoga poses. Yet, almost anybody can practice Qigong, even those with injuries or limitations.
Key difference 4: One final difference between the two is that, while a typical Yoga class will probably contain a balancing pose, it’s not the central feature of the practice. However, once one progresses past a beginner level, Qigong will mostly focus on balance; this can be both frustrating and indispensable for those who need help quieting their minds!
Which is better – Yoga or Qigong?
This question depends on who you ask! Yoga and Qigong can serve different people in different ways; also, many people practice both.
You may prefer Yoga if you’re looking to get more of a workout or a stretch. However, if you have physical limitations, you might find that you prefer Qigong. In addition, Qigong can better suit you if you’re interested in building your mindfulness muscle and growing your consciousness as a result. Both practices, though, will have you feeling more at peace, so they’re both a great addition to your self-care routine.
Which is older? – Yoga or Qigong?
Since both practices are ancient, there’s some disagreement as to which practice originated first. Qigong, for example, is said to have originated 4000-5000 years ago. Yet, some argue that its origins trace back as far as seven thousand years, due to a piece of Neolithic pottery that was found to depict a person practicing a Qigong pose.
The same goes for Yoga; there’s no clear answer to the question of when it began. Historians trace Yoga’s origins back about five thousand years; however, since Yoga began as an oral (rather than written) tradition, many believe that it could’ve started as far back as ten thousand years ago.
Some examples of moves in Yoga and Qigong
Below, we’ll explain a few typical postures you may expect to see in a Yoga class and a Qigong class.
Examples of Yoga moves/poses
1. Yoga: Downward Facing Dog Pose
Downward facing dog begins from a plank pose, in which the hands are planted on the mat shoulder-width apart, arms holding the body upwards, with the legs extended back at hip distance apart. Then, you’ll move into downward facing dog by moving the hips up and back into a V shape, pressing the hips backwards, and allowing the ears to come directly between the upper arms. This pose opens the shoulders and gently stretches the hamstrings.
2. Yoga: Tree Pose
For this balancing Yoga posture, start standing, with your feet hip-width apart and your weight evenly distributed throughout all four corners of both feet. Bring your palms together in prayer position at your heart. Shift your weight over to your right leg, then slowly lift the left foot from the mat. Then, bring the sole of the left foot anywhere along the inside of the standing leg, except at the knee (toes can remain on the ground with the heel touching the ankle, if desired). Stay in this shape, or reach the arms up and out to “grow” your tree pose. After a few breaths, slowly release the pose, shake out your legs, and repeat on the other side. This pose helps to quiet the mind and strengthen the ankles.
3. Yoga: Cobra Pose
This pose starts lying on the belly, with the palms planted beneath the shoulders. Point your toes back and bring your inner thighs together. Keeping the elbows squeezed into your ribcage, press evenly into both palms to begin lifting the chest from the mat. Keep your shoulders relaxed down away from your ears, and keep your jaw and forehead unclenched. This pose, normally used in a Vinyasa sequence, opens the shoulders and heart space, and warms up the spine and back muscles.
Examples of Qigong moves/poses
1. Qigong: Pushing Up The Heavens
Pushing Up The Heavens, or Lifting The Sky, in Qigong, is a movement which begins standing, with your feet hip distance apart. From here, press your palms straight down in front of you, with your fingers turned gently inward. Then, press the palms in an arc-like shape outward and upward, until your palms press straight up overhead (as if you were trying to lift the sky). As you press your hands up and out, your gaze should follow your hands. On an exhale, release the hands down and out (like a bird flapping its wings) until your hands are down by your sides again.
2. Qigong: Pulling the Bow to Shoot the Arrow
Start this movement by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly, then bring your hands just in front of your chest, poised as if you were holding a ball. Then, turn your torso to your right; extend both arms in front of your torso, with your right index finger pointing forward towards a “target” and your left fist clenched as if you were holding a bowstring. Pull the “string” in your left hand backwards to the center of your chest. Then release the “arrow” and relax both your hands. Bring your hands back to holding the imaginary ball in the center of your chest, with your torso facing forward, and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Qigong: Separating Heaven and Earth
You’ll start this movement in the same stance as the previous one: feet a little wider than your shoulders. As you inhale, lift both hands, palms up, to the chest. Exhale as you press one palm straight up towards the sky, and the other palm straight down towards the ground. Inhale to bring both palms back to chest-level, palms face up. On your next exhale, repeat the same movement, but on the opposite side: the arm which went up before should go down this time, and vice versa.
Yoga Vs Qigong – What are the benefits of each? Which should you consider learning?
As mentioned above, both Yoga and Qigong carry immense benefits– it just depends on who you are! With that said, let’s dive a little deeper into the specific benefits you should hope to gain by practicing each tradition.
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga’s benefits depend on which style of Yoga you practice, but there are a few benefits that stretch across all styles. For example: as long as you practice mindfully, with kindness towards yourself and your body, any Yoga class, from Bikram to restorative, is sure to leave you feeling peaceful and calm.
Yoga, specifically, will also help to either tone or stretch your muscles (usually both). Yin Yoga, for example, will give you a blissful stretch in your ligaments and tendons. Vinyasa Yoga, on the other hand, is great for toning your hips, quads, and core, just to name a few muscle groups. As you practice Yoga, you’ll also feel an impact on your meditation practice, if you meditate. Yoga’s pairing of breath with movement builds mindfulness and allows you to access a meditative state more quickly and easily.
Since Yoga is more physically demanding than Qigong, you’ll probably leave a typical yoga class with a gentle– yet not overwhelming– feeling of muscle fatigue. Think of the way your legs feel after a long, brisk walk: gently exercised, but not exhausted.
Benefits of Qigong
Many of Qigong’s benefits mirror that of Yoga: for example, you’ll gain mindful awareness and peaceful feelings when you practice Qigong. Qigong, however, has more of a focus on flow. This means continuous movement matched with the breath, without holding any particular pose for very long.
While flow is a part of only certain styles of Yoga (such as Vinyasa), flow is always a primary element when practicing Qigong. As a result, Qigong is more likely to teach a practitioner to “go with the flow” mentally, observing one’s thoughts but not becoming attached to them.
In addition, since Qigong is usually not as physically challenging as Yoga, you can expect to walk away from a Qigong practice feeling energized.
Summing it up
Hopefully, this will help you come to an understanding of which ancient practice will serve you best. Keep in mind that the answer might be “both”! Many Yoga practitioners also practice Qigong, and vice versa. It’s entirely up to you to decide which practice suits your needs, and this might change throughout your life, or even on a day-to-day basis.
When analyzing the similarities, differences, and benefits between Yoga and Qigong, it helps to remember that both are a form of moving meditation, and they’ll both help you to become more mindful. Keep in mind that one practice is not better than the other, but that you may find that you like one better! Either way, there are no right or wrong answers. No matter which practice you take up, don’t forget to enjoy your newfound peace and mindfulness!