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Tai Chi vs Qigong: What’s the difference?

Tai chi and qigong have long been popular in the cancer community to help with the effects of the disease. This week we look at these two forms of Chinese therapy, their similarities, differences and benefits.

Both tai chi and qigong are components of traditional Chinese medicine. They use slow movements, focused breathing and meditation to ensure that your chi is free to flow easily throughout your body. “Chi” simply means breath and is believed to be the energy flowing through your body. Tai Chi is actually a form of Qigong, so the movements are similar in that they are slow and flowing but the focus, methods and benefits can differ between the two.

In origin, tai chi is a form of marital art. Growing in popularity it has evolved into a low impact and gentle form of exercise. The movements, also known as forms, of tai chi focus on standing positions and tend to be more complex than qigong. The flow of the movements are done in a specific pattern or order to help focus on the whole body as opposed to specific areas of the body1.

Qigong’s primary focus is and has always been on health and wellness. While tai chi focuses mostly on standing movements, qigong can also incorporate more on lying or sitting down postures and the movements can be simpler in form than tai chi. This may be more beneficial to people who have specific injuries or limitations as they can be modified to fit your needs. The focus of qigong also differs from tai chi. Instead of focusing on chi throughout the whole body, qigong focuses on specific aspects of chi within the body1.

Both methods of traditional Chinese therapy have been shown to have positive benefits for breast cancer patients. While neither have been shown to treat or prevent cancer, they can help relieve your side effects of the disease and its treatment. Tai chi can help with balance, flexibility and strength2; while both have also been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and ease pain and stiffness3, 4.

This study showed that tai chi can also help treat insomnia in breast cancer patients. 30% of breast cancer patients experience insomnia at some point in their treatment and tai chi offers an affordable alternative to cognitive behavioral therapy. Treating insomnia can also lower risks of depression.

Qigong has also been shown to reduce signs of depression and improve overall quality of life in breast cancer patients.

While both forms of this traditional Chinese medicine can greatly improve your quality of life during and after your cancer treatment, it’s always important to talk with your oncologist before starting any new therapy or exercise.