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What is Feng Shui and Does it Work?

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Feng Shui, pronounced “Fung Shway”, is one of the Five Arts of Chinese Metaphysics and is influenced by Chinese astronomy. The practice, which dates back to 4000 B.C., refers to architecture and design in terms of “invisible forces” that bind the universe, earth and humanity together. These forces can be thought of as energy or “chi”. Feng Shui translates to “wind-water” and the idea is to keep chi flowing in a peaceful way, and just as importantly, not let it stagnate.

Such an ancient practice, with its evolving schools of thought, would take a lifetime to understand. The method that we Westerners are most familiar with is the Eight Life Aspirations. It uses a map or a “Bagua” which I will first describe and then explain how it is used. It’s over simplistic to say that the Bagua represents the universe’s “chi” but it’s a good start.

Think of the Bagua as an octagonal pie with eight slices with a circle at the center where all eight pieces unite. Each of the eight slices is assigned one of the eight cardinal directions - north, south, east, west, northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest. By the way, how did these directions come to be in the first place? They are derived from the earth’s magnetic force in relation to its poles.

Stay with me. This will become clearer. In addition to each of these sectors being assigned a direction, each is also assigned a life aspiration such as skills and knowledge, love and marriage, prosperity and abundance, and family and health. Each is also assigned a color. Lastly, a little more science. We know that metal objects have a magnetic force and can make a compass move. But did you know that wood, water, earth, and fire also have magnetic forces? They do, and each of these elements is also assigned a slice of the Bagua.

I purposefully repeated the word “assigned” because Chinese sages, astronomers and metaphysicists determined how the Bagua should be populated. How and why? This goes back to my suggestion that it would take a lifetime to understand but hopefully, both you and I get the gist.

Now that we know what a Bagua is, how do we use it in our homes? First draw a scaled floor plan of your interiors and then place the Bagua on top of it. (Ideally the Bagua is on a transparent piece of paper). To put Feng Shui into practice, let’s say your current aspiration is to further your education, pass a test, or improve your tennis game. So, you’d look for the skills and knowledge slice of your Bagua and see on which room it lands. Let’s say it’s your kitchen. That particular slice tells you that the kitchen is in the northeast part of your house and is represented by the element earth and the color blue. So, Feng Shui would suggest that to help realize your aspiration, you would put something blue in the kitchen along with earth. A plant in a blue pot for example.

Here’s another example of a different sort. If you are constantly afflicted with bronchitis, migraines, have high blood pressure or other health concerns, use your Bagua to see what space is associated with health. If it’s your very cluttered and disorderly garage, the solution here is quite clear. I realize that this example is a real stretch but I offer two thoughts: a clean environment gives one room to breathe, literally, and reduces stress. Secondly, Feng Shui or not, there’s no harm in decluttering your garage.

What about the center circle of the Bagua? Think of it as the center or heart of your home. Intuitively, you want this area to be light, bright and open just as you’d want your emotional heart to be. If your center falls in a dark, narrow hall, add sconces, ceiling lights or maybe a skylight. You can also brighten the hall with color, a mirror and/or art. The image of the art should bring you a sense of ease and optimism. It’s all about intention.

I first heard of Feng Shui in the 1990s. Since it’s not a course offered in design schools, I read a few books and experimented with my own home. I soon realized that some rules were just a matter of good design. Is sitting at a desk with your back to the door unsettling because it’s poor design or because it’s poor Feng Shui? Other rules were hard to implement like hanging crystals or using colors that didn’t work with my décor.

Does it work? I’m intrigued by the magnetic force at the heart of Feng Shui. I’m open-minded. But as a designer, my goal is to create harmonious, healthy, functional spaces with intention, deliberation, and some pizzazz no matter from where my inspiration comes.

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