Feng shui, pronounced "foong swee" (Cantonese) or "fong shway" (Mandarin) is the Chinese art of arranging buildings, objects, and space in the environment in order to achieve energy, harmony, and balance. The English translation of Feng shui is "the way of Wind (feng) and Water (shui)" or "the natural forces of the universe."
Feng shui, derived from the Chinese concept of yin and yang, has been practiced for thousands of years. Evidence of the existence of this practice can be found in the alignment and organization of graves in the Yangshao villages from 6000 B.C. In fact, there is compelling evidence that suggests that feng shui was not strictly an Asian entity. In prehistoric Europe, the practice of arranging objects and structures to be in harmony with the universe was a relatively common practice.
A popular theory regarding the origins of feng shui suggests that the practice stemmed from ancient shaman who understood the vital importance of strategically placing a village. Areas which possessed mild winds would generate plentiful harvests while harsh winds would stunt crop growth or destroy the harvest altogether. In addition, the placement of a village in close proximity to flowing water and fresh springs would stimulate growth and ensure health, while stagnant water would foster disease and disharmony within the community. As the centuries passed, these shaman correlated their thoughts on wind and water with the teachings of Daoism, thus creating the practice of feng shui.
As a design philosophy, "good" feng shui is believed to promote health, prosperity, creativity, positive social relationships, self-confidence, contemplation, and respect for others.
An ancient Daoist Chinese theory of design and placement, feng shui grew from observations that an individual's surroundings elicit positive and negative effects. According to Daoism, everything that exists contains qi (chi), the energy or life force. This qi possesses two properties, yin (receptive) and yang (active)—they are opposites and cannot exist without the other. Within the qi, eight constituents compose the universe (the Lake, the Mountain, Fire, Water, Heaven, Thunder,
Wind, and Earth). Each trigram, or combination of three yin/yang elements, represents a particular quality and pattern of energy. In turn, the proper arrangement of these energetic qualities would affect not only the qi of the environment, but that of the individual within the environment as well. With feng shui, the goal is to bring both into harmony so as to foster prosperity, health, and well-being with the Wind (feng) dispersing the qi throughout the universe and Water (shui).
The ba gua, or "Sequence of the Later Heaven," is the arrangement of the energy trigrams so that they exist in harmony and balance. Each trigram has a balancing partner that contributes to universal harmony. For example, Earth is balanced by the Mountain, Fire is balanced by the Water, Wind is balanced by Heaven, and Thunder is balanced by Lake. The ba gau is laid in a circular pattern with Fire at the top, followed by Earth, the Lake, Heaven, Water, the Mountain, Thunder, and Wind (clockwise). The Taiji (or yin-yang symbol) is located in the center of the trigrams, and represents the unifying force of the universe.
Practitioners of feng shui use the ba gua to determine the energy flow throughout the home and in other living spaces. By corresponding the trigram pattern to the different parts of a room, a practitioner determines whether the room is in harmony with the universe. For example, when analyzing a home office or workspace of a writer or artist, a feng shui specialist would pay particular attention to the portion of the room that corresponds to the Lake of the ba gua, because the Lake represents creative energy. If there is clutter or disorganization in the section of the room that corresponds to the Lake, or if the room is partitioned so that the Lake section is actually occupied by a bookcase or closet, then the environment would be considered to stifle creativity. A feng shui specialist might recommend moving the office to a more hospitable room in the house, or reconstructing the storage space to free up the creative energy in the Lake section of the room. Good health is said to be located in the Wind trigram of the ba gua, so maintaining this space and using it effectively is critical to practitioners of feng shui.
There are many other design tenets of feng shui, but some of the most commonly used and basic concepts include:
- Energy, or qi, enters and exits rooms through doorways. Doors facing each other encourage qi to move too quickly through and out of the room. Doors on adjoining walls encourage a circular movement of qi that is considered relaxing and "good" feng shui.
- Arranging chairs, beds, chaises, sofas, or other seating with their backs to the door and/or windows is not recommended in feng shui. It is considered "bad" feng shui to leave the back exposed to possible attack through the door.
- Homes located at the end of a cul-de-sac, across from a church or other spiritual center, at the end of a bridge, or near a freeway are not desirable to feng shui practitioners because these locations all have either too fast or not enough energy flow.
- When choosing a home site to build on, the ideal location according to feng shui principles is a rectangular plot of land, on a hill, with open space in front of the home.
- The front door of a home should be in proportion to the size of the house. Too large or too small an entrance will not facilitate proper qi flow through the home.
- Mirrors used in the home should not face chairs or beds.
- Windows should face only pleasing, natural views when at all possible. If a view is dreary, the feng shui of the room can be improved by using window treatments inside and/or window box plantings outside.
Individuals should observe basic building code and fire safety rules when redesigning a home according to feng shui principles.
Feng shui adjustments to living space should not be relied upon as a sole source of treatment for individuals with health problems. Although feng shui principles can be employed as an adjunct, or complementary, treatment, proper diagnosis and treatment from a qualified health-care professional is necessary in treating any chronic or acute physical disorder.
Research & general acceptance
Feng shui has been practiced throughout Asia for thousands of years, and has recently grown in popularity in the United States as a tool for home design. Although considered part of traditional Chinese medicine in Asia, it is not largely regarded as a healthcare tool in the United States, preventative or otherwise.
Training & certification
Certification and/or licensing is not required to practice feng shui in the United States. However, there are some national organizations that offer training and certification programs.
Henwood, Belinda. Feng Shui: How to create harmony and balance in your living and working environment. Pownal, VT: Storey Books, 1999.
Williams, Tom. The Complete Illustrated Guide to Chinese Medicine. Boston, MA: Element Books, 1996.
Geomancy, the Feng Shui Education Association. 2939 Ulloa Street, San Francisco, CA 94116. (415) 753-6408. http://www.geofengshui.com.