Friday, April 10, 2015

Hatha Yoga vs. Chi Kung

Yoga in Hong Kong is almost equivalent to yoga-asana of hatha yoga, considered to be stretching exercises, no more and no less. Building flexibility and elegance, most welcoming to office ladies and female executives of all ages. Chi kung (including tai chi chi-kung, or tai chi practised as chi kung) is more like healing exercises for the middle-aged+ and recovering patients. How do their compared in terms of techniques and effectiveness? And can they be complementary to each other?

Many people who practice yoga in Hong Kong do not know Hatha yoga consists of eight different stages or concepts.
  1. Yatna  - Conduct of life in relation to others – avoiding untruth, theft, injury to others, sensuality and greed.
  2. Niyama - Conduct towards oneself – cleanliness, tranquillity, austerity, study and devotion.
  3. Asana - Stretching, bending, balancing and sitting exercises. These exercises are nowadays collectively known as hatha yoga.
  4. Pranayama - Breathing exercises which aim to control the mind.
  5. Pratyahara - Withdrawing the attention from the body and the senses.
  6. Dharana - Concentration of the mind.
  7. Dhyana - Meditation.
  8. Samadhi - Uninterrupted contemplation of reality.
Two specific concepts define Hatha yoga apart from spiritual, chi and mind-body systems. They are asana and pranayama.

Asana: the practice of asana, as I can observe it being practised in Hong Kong, is practised in a way that relaxation is emphasized to hold a stance in position. With such holds, our tendons will be lengthened and aligned to the stance or structure, with minimal activation of chi (at least it is not explicitly taught). With more practice, the stance or structure will approach the "perfect form". Without chi generation means that there will not be an effective feedback mechanism as to when stretching is approaching its limit. As such, yoga-asana, when compared to chi kung, can more easily lead to body injuries like torn ligaments and loosened joints.

Chi Kung forms: whether it is stationery forms or movement forms, chi generation to opening blockages (mainly muscles and joint blockages) is the primary focus. The tendons and muscles will be strengthened and lengthened at the same time. The lengthening benefit will however be not as effective as doing yoga-asana. In terms of structural alignment, yoga-asana also scores better, in particular its seated forms in which part of the body is fixed. The benefit of chi kung on the other hand is that chi can be consciously moved towards the inner-most parts and extremities of our body. With this feature, chi kung is most beneficial for healing, including structural, muscular and internal organs. In addition, one can consciously feel where one is going, avoidance of injury can be more easily attained.

Pranayama is controlled breathing exercises aiming at calming and controlling the mind. Yoga has a most complete set of breathing exercises that is not found in chi kung. Practitioners of chi kung can benefit from these breathing exercises.

Oftentimes chi kung students neglect the importance of breathing. Some teachers even maintain that only natural breathing is needed for practicing chi kung (and tai chi chi-kung). With some good training of our breathing muscles (with chi kung's abdominal deep breathing training and selected techniques from the more complex system of pranayama), a chi kung student will be able to consciously drive more and stronger chi to the areas, like inner areas or extremities, to achieve good healing and training objectives. In addition, some of the pranayama techniques can be very useful for chi channel opening, such as alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhan Pranayama).


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