Exercise East to West: How Much Difference Could There Be?

Exercise East to West:  How Much Difference Could There Be?

Exercise East to West: How Much Difference Could There Be?

One might think there would not be much difference in exercise practices between Eastern and Western cultures. Yet, there are considerable differences in philosophy and approach.

Philosophy

Western exercise encompasses many methods from aerobic to strength training, but the key philosophy is the same: Western exercise focuses on physicality whether it's to burn calories, strengthen muscles, or increase flexibility. The focus is on the physical body's performance and changes.

Exercise from the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view is focused on subtle energy. The balance of energy, movement of energy, and release of stagnant energy is the focus. This idea aligns with the central principle of TCM: Qi (pronounced chi) or energy is the guiding factor in the health of an individual.

Styles

While Western and Eastern medicine both endorse exercise to maintain or improve health, the types of workouts differ to achieve health.

Western exercise is a smorgasbord of choices, and the different forms can go in and out of style. For many years, calisthenics and aerobic exercise were the workouts to do. Currently, high impact interval training (HIIT) is the trend.

While there are many TCM exercises, most are centuries old and they don't equal in the variety of Western body training. The ones most known in the West are qigong and tai chi. There are, however, other, TCM exercises, such as wushu, qi guiding skills, and dance.  The common thread among them is energy.

Here are some other ways that Western and TCM exercises are different in approach and attitude:

Toxin Removal

TCM – Breathing is done in coordination with slow movement to encourage blood flow and to cleanse the lymphatic system. The flow of energy also expels toxins through urine and excrement.

Western – Sweating removes toxins, and lymph system is stimulated through exercise. However, there isn't an emphasis on exercising to eliminate toxins.

Influence on the Body

TCM – Exercising unblocks qi for better flow thereby increasing vitality, strengthening organs, and improving balance and flexibility. Twisting is considered essential to remove toxins.

Western – Working out burns calories which lower weight, improves fat to muscle ratio, builds muscle, strengthens the heart, and increases stamina.

When Workouts Are Done

TCM

  • Typically, TCM exercise is done in the early morning and outdoors. Morning air, deep breathing, and movement help to refresh cells. Indoor air is considered contaminated.

  • Exercise is also coordinated to the seasons because the body's energy is different for each season. For example, tai chi routines are specific to the seasons.

  • Usually, exercise is done in group/class settings.

  • Exercise equipment is not incorporated into workout routines.


Western

  • Workouts are done any time of day and usually done indoors except for running and jogging. Many health clubs are open 24 hours.

  • While exercise is generally done solo, it can vary depending on trends. For example, the current trend is towards exercise classes.

  • Exercise equipment and technology are integrated into workouts and have become an essential part of exercising in recent decades.


Attitude and Approach

TCM

  • Complete focus on breath and movement.

  • Each movement has significance and coordinates with specific bodily organs and health issues.

  • It's done to support aging, heal, prevent illnesses, and improve mental health and emotional health.

  • TCM exercise incorporates methods that seek to establish harmony between the individual and nature.

  • Strengthening organs is considered important to help with reserve energy and support nutrition. For example, the spleen is fortified to convert food to nutrients instead of becoming fat.


Western

  • Breathing is important because it brings in fresh-oxygenated blood to build up muscle strength and lower heart rate. However, it's not the focus and breathing is typically not coordinated with movement. It's more of a byproduct of exercise.

  • Exercise increases stamina, supports aging, and focuses on physical results. Exercise is considered beneficial for mental and emotional health.

  • "No pain, no gain" is often used as a motto to encourage intense workouts.


Western and Chinese exercise differ in several ways including the types of training and whether the focus is on energy. While approaches may be different, they have some commonalities. Both help to reduce stress, uplift mood, improve sleep, prevent diseases, and increase energy. The important thing is to exercise.

References

Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389.

Exercise and Physical Fitness. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/exerciseandphysicalfitness.html.

Jiang, Yan, Zou, Jun. Analysis of the TCM theory of traditional Chinese health exercise. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254613000744.

Mah, Frieda, Licensed Acupuncturist: NGH, C.HT, CI. The Chinese vs. Western Exercises. Retrieved from https://universaltcm.wordpress.com/224-2/.

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