Yoga and Tai Chi
June 6, 2005 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I think I want to try Yoga or Tai Chi but I can't decide which.

I'm a 29-year-old sysadmin with little interest in normal sports and a moderately bad shoulders-forward posture from years in front of a computer, and a weak back from a number of things including the computer and years playing double bass. I'm a surprisingly inflexible person given my general physical condition (which isn't spectactular, but isn't that far gone either). I regularly strain my neck and arm and who knows what else, either sleeping or in the car or at the computer or whatever, and I want to fix this.

The boring solution for this would be a stretching routine, but I like the structure and history involved with both Yoga and Tai Chi. I also like the approach both have to conditioning the body and mind together, but I can't decide which to try, and I don't think I'll be able to figure it out by going to one or two classes of each because both will be pretty hard on me to begin with.

I've got no medical problems that would prevent me from doing either (and I'm told that mild IBS would benefit from either). I'm also going to be seeing a massage therapist to work on my postural problems.

What's the best path for me, or what should I keep in mind about both while I'm deciding where to start?
posted by mendel to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
one thing you might keep in mind is that even within one of those, there are a variety of different versions or schools, which will feel quite different. I would recommend visiting some classes to get a feel for the way things are done, even if you decline to take part in the actual class - you can usually watch a class or speak with an instructor to get a sense of whether the place is right for you. Especially in yoga, there are many different 'flavors'.

Both forms emphasize breathing and stretching, but tai chi is probably more focused on moving forms, while yoga is often taught as a series of 'poses'. There are moving forms in yoga, but fewer, and they're commonly not the focus of classes. I don't know how many seated or lying down positions there are in tai chi - the only forms I know of it are standing and moving/breathing, whereas in yoga there are commonly a lot of seated or lying-down exercises (and a lot of back-stretching stuff, too - e.g., bridge, 'boat')

any particular preference for chinese vs. indian culture? If you feel drawn to one over the other, you might consider that...
posted by mdn at 9:49 AM on June 6, 2005

You do your yoga as an individual within a group; Tai Chi has the extra dimension of trying to be in synch with the other class participants through movement/energy. If you are a strong introvert, you may prefer yoga, if you are extroverted, you may prefer Tai Chi.
posted by rainbaby at 10:25 AM on June 6, 2005

Tai Chi (I'm speaking about Taoist Tai Chi, not other forms) can be as gentle or strenuous as you want to make it - and certainly not the latter until after you've learned the "set" (~3 months) and then begin to go to "continuing" classes where they focus more on technique - that's when the isokinetics and breathing begin to come out. Try it - you may like it. Can't comment on yoga, though, although I'd be interested in other's comments there, myself.
posted by Pressed Rat at 10:28 AM on June 6, 2005

Although I haven't done much Tai Chi, I imagine that the intense strengthening/lengthening of yoga would be more suited to your needs. (I say this as a long-time computer user and yoga practitioner.) That said, I think you should go to classes of both and see what you prefer personally.
posted by Specklet at 11:17 AM on June 6, 2005

I don't think I'll be able to figure it out by going to one or two classes of each

In fact, I think you won't be able to figure it out for much longer than that. I just started taking aikido, and one of the older students claimed the benefits aren't entirely felt until around 6 months. So why not take both, either at the same time, or try one for few months and then another? I doubt it would be more than two nights a week for each.

Also, unless you take one of the crazy forms of yoga, it won't be as hard on you as you think, especially at first. You may be somewhat sore, but it would be nothing like jumping straight into a full workout routine. When I was taking yoga it wasn't until a month or so in that we did more "strenuous" (and in the scale of things, not that strenuous) things. I don't know personally about tai chi, but if you take it through an adult education program, my mother reports that it also won't be too hard, as you may be somewhat younger than the average age there.
posted by advil at 11:19 AM on June 6, 2005

I've done both.

If your primary focus is on posture and flexibility, go with yoga. I enjoy the rhythm and "group channeling" of tai chi, but I didn't find that it helped me physically that much.
posted by mkultra at 11:22 AM on June 6, 2005

When I want to unwind at the end of the day, I either have a cup of Chai Tea, or practice my Tai Chi. They're both great.

Seriously though, I have to agree with mkultra. The yoga is a more stressful workout, but the Tai Chi is way more "fun". Not that yoga isn't fun, but there's def something a little "more" either doing the tai chi alone or in a group, at least for me. So I'd make your decision based on that.
posted by indiebass at 12:16 PM on June 6, 2005

Tai Chi also has a martial component. If you are lucky enough to find a good teacher that can teach those aspects of it then it can be really interesting and a source of constant growth. For example, push hands is a classic exercise where you try to unbalance your partner while maintaining rootedness. There are many subtle aspects to it and many variations that keep it interesting. Also the various tai chi forms have martial applications. The way that the health and martial sides merge is that the form teaches you proper body mechanics, e.g. how to direct your energy from your center, while the martial side supplies various intents and meanings to the movements.
From a personal perspective, having this additional side to taichi make it much more interesting than just a "workout".
posted by blueyellow at 1:14 PM on June 6, 2005

indiebass, Lisa Simpson beat you to it:
Homer: How do you relax?
Lisa: Oh you know -- chai tea, tai chi...

posted by matildaben at 1:27 PM on June 6, 2005

I've done a little Tai Chi, which is good for lots of things, and years of Ashtanga Yoga, which makes you fit and strong. But despite this I've had poor posture. Turns out that posture really isn't about muscles. Finally, this spring, I started taking lessons in the Alexander Technique and that's radically improved my posture (and my yoga).
posted by Panfilo at 1:41 PM on June 6, 2005

I am also incredibly inflexible and have shoulder and back problems. I've found kundilini yoga to be really helpful -- when I'm doing it regularly. Kundilini puts a lot of focus on spine strength and flexibility. It's the first physical exercise that I've ever enjoyed.
posted by sonnet at 1:45 PM on June 6, 2005

I think you'd notice a difference much faster from yoga.

(And while yoga and Tai Chi are great, 2 or 3 classes a week are no substitute for getting up and stretching during the workday, once per hour at least.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:08 PM on June 6, 2005

I'll second the Alexander Technique.
posted by Specklet at 2:56 PM on June 6, 2005

I started doing Tai Chi as part of rehab from a motorcycle accident. It did a lot for my range of motion, which was exactly what I wanted. As I got better, I became interested more in the martial aspects (as blueyellow mentioned) and ended up starting karate (Kung Fu would have been a better choice, but my youngest was taking it at the time and it was easier to go there than somewhere else). I only did it for about a year, and that's probably only long enough to get the basics down.

Rather than take both at once, you might try six months of one, then six of the other, so that you get past the awkward stage where you're so self-conscious and start to see some of the benefits. Both yoga and Tai Chi are often taught at the Y or at community centers, so you can try them without necessarily signing a contract. If you get serious later, you can always find a center dedicated to teaching the art.
posted by tommasz at 3:24 PM on June 6, 2005

I recommend Tai chi, for the simple reason that you'll look way cooler doing it :)
posted by dhruva at 6:49 PM on June 6, 2005

Thirding the Alexander Technique for posture and well-being, though not fitness.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:40 AM on June 7, 2005

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