First I want to state, I don’t view it as a versus- I view it as a different flavor- which depending on the context can be better for some things than others. That cleared- having experienced some Yoga (though minor) this is what I notice as differences.
Yoga comes from the Indian subcontinent- with its own unique culture. That is a duh thing to say..however its very important. Indian culture generally was a caste system, further the way the system is built, it mostly revolves around the spine. Now, one can look at the root chakra and see that its the lowest position which then through the various other chakras rise to end up to the crown. This system doesn’t bring the energy flow down generally (some systems do though). This is important to note; that the public accepted system is developed around raising energy to the crown at one point or another. Remember that social aspect of caste system? Well..at least in my view, this is where it kicks in. If yoga is a reflection of one’s spirituality physically and someone is caught in a social contract they didn’t agree to..of course their going work energy in away to “break” those blocks and free themselves. Hence why I’ve heard some people say Yoga is somewhat more “fiery”, it just burns any emotional/psychological blocks. From a climatic perspective, Yoga is based around lying on the ground or doing movements very close to it- just from a basic scientific point of view: India is hot, so..its cooler by the ground. However the energetic kick here is, when your working all the chakras and doing various poses by the ground- be it lying, sitting etc., your consistently grounding yourself by default even though the focus on energy movement is rising. Hence it neutralizes itself.
Qigong as stated in other posts; comes from China. China is a big country..very much like the U.S.A, it has various climates- multiple ethnic groups and in some ways sub-cultural groups under the general ethnic group of the Han Chinese. Qigong has various developments however I’m going put it toward the Northern plains of China- the Yellow River as a divider, since thats where the cradle of Chinese civilization was- in contrast to the south by the division point would be the Yangtze. First Chinese culture, though it did have caste systems- it still had quite abit of mobility due to the National Exam- where people could study from any class to become a scholar. So in that context unlike the Indian culture, the “breakthrough” mentality wasn’t as great. System wise Chinese culture takes “flow” as very important- now..it could be because of Confucianism & Daoism, it could also be due to the emphasis of harmony- which water also represented. Climatically, taking the point of view, Qigong developed in the North (primarily as a start), its cold during the winter..and like North America, has four seasons. So when its nice, its nice, when it sucks- it horrid. So standing seemed to be a better application than sitting on the cold ground. In context of that..you’ll find Qigong has more flowly movements to release “stagnation” of energy and depending moves around as you would be dancing.
System to system:
Generally, I’ve talked about the Qigong system here in detail. However that said- a nutshell is the Qigong system is based on the 3 Dantians, 12 Meridians, 8 Extra-Ordinary Meridians, and organs. They all have various correspondences. The chakras are based around the spine and depending on the system there can be a various amount- the general agreement is there are 7- again they have their own correspondences. Wikipedia actually has a pretty good resource on it- here. Now each respective system has its strengths and weaknesses. Generally I find..Yoga is better for physical conditioning these days and end goal relaxation (the corpse pose)- as in..do you want some abs? Great..go to Yoga. Not saying all Yoga is like this, however in North American culture it seems to be a marketing fad. Qigong has kept to its roots more where its more about desensitizing psychological habits, building up concentration- using flowing movements to distract and center your mind, and energy work. Yoga traditionally has these, however depending what Yoga your doing, this is not emphasized- since the majority are Hatha yoga or derivatives of it.
So a simple table breakdown would be:
Differences between Yoga and Qigong
More static poses Variations of static and flowy movements | More body driven Can be body driven, however generally isn’t- more mental
Works with Chakras
Age wise: its generally for a younger crowd (unless your trained previous)
Movements are used to get to a meditative state
More body driven Can be body driven, however generally isn’t- more mental
Works with meridians, dantians
Just about everyone can do it- in any shape.
Meditative states are used to go into movements.
Now I want to say..this is a very very ROUGH outline of the differences- I know there is much more in terms of similarities and differences..
There is an analogy I heard off a Karate teacher once, who said.. “well in Karate, we work ourselves so hard to the point we are dead tired, its then the training starts and gets internalized”. I can’t disagree with that point- but how does this fit into the comparison of Yoga and Qigong? I’ve seen alot of people who do Yoga take that approach which isn’t wrong or bad, its just different than what I’ve been taught. That said, there are Yogas who are mentally centered and are very Qigong-esk in their approach, thing is..you never hear about it at least publicly. By the opposite spectrum there are Qigongs where they do exactly the above- they are generally lumped in with the Martial Arts group.
However in context, I think getting that mental clarity- having your thoughts “chill” out, and not reacting is a good life skill that Qigong develops rather quickly. This is done by slow gentle rhythmic movements which are used to distract the mind, however enough to keep it engaged with the body which then syncs them together. Its from the constant repetitive motions that your mind starts to quiet down, almost as in if you were in a “peak experience”. Water is a good comparison here: The Daodejing states “Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” (78.1). That is a Qigong attitude, keep moving- flow, be relaxed as possible, and eventually the murky waters of your mind will settle- and it’ll be clear. Yoga can do this also, however from my little experience with it and exposure, I haven’t found many people who take an attitude like this. However physical conditioning to then train the mind is an important aspect of training- which I can’t deny since it builds up discipline. Both systems have similar goals, they just go about it differently.
So I talked about the differences between Yoga and Qigong above climatically-historically, but lets break it down abit more. Yoga having been been on the chakras and the spine…and well an ancesion model to get closer to the universe, gods, God, whatever…brings up the earth energy (prana) and refines it consistently up until the crown chakra- it doesn’t bring it down either. That said, I heard one Yoga instructor say certain systems do bring it down- but they are not commonly known. So it depends on your school..but the yoga most people know, doesn’t seem to bring down the energy after. That said, Yoga goes through a intense regiment of clearing the chakras and moving upward which metaphorically also raises your consciousness/awareness which is great- having brought up the energy from the earth in the 1st chakra- it serves as a automatic grounding- or stability check. Further the corpse pose discharges any energy from your body right away when your lying down. So in this case, you can say..Yoga does flow energy- just not in the same way Qigong does.
In Qigong, the take is..you are a storehouse or battery. You store the energy in the lower Dantian and there isn’t a division between Earth and Heaven energies..ideally you work with both and store it for your own purpose. That said there are Qigongs that focus on 1 particular energy, however generally you’ll find them mixing. The reason for this is because in Chinese culture they work off the principles of Yin-Yang which is prevalent throughout the whole fabric of the culture. Yin would be corresponded to Earth, Yang would be corresponded to Heaven. From there you’ll usually see at some point during most Qigong forms, a circular rotation – circuit between the energies (Microcosmic orbit) whether its stated or not- to balance the energies. Lastly the grounding of Qigong is usually packing in Qi in the Lower Dantian at the end. Essentially the Qigong view is, flow the Qi through the form- get the blocks/kinks out then store whatever you’ve made..if you produced alot of Qi in the form..great you got some excess and the body will naturally absorb it.
Well, this is a short article- however I’d say..whatever your practice be it Yoga or Qigong do enjoy it! Both are vehicles to better you and your life, in which as long as you keep doing it..one day you’ll figure out what you need and how you need it. They are both excellent tools, though derived from separate cultures have their own purpose(s).