Treating Your Space with Conscience & Care: An Introduction to Feng Shui

You probably have an innate sense of what feels and looks good in any space you’re in. Even if you can’t name it, or don’t know why you may feel cozy in one space, unsettled in the next, your instincts are acutely aware of “what works.” Think of how you can always seem to meditate in one space, or can never get any reading or work done in another. In some ways, Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of organizing and arranging objects in space—and even buildings themselves—in order to arrive at harmony and balance, is just a codified version of that innate sense. An explanation for why something feels good in a room and something else doesn’t and a system for creating spaces that have that ineffable quality of ease and positive energy.

History & Definition of Feng Shui

Feng Shui literally means wind and water. It started out as a technique used by Chinese farmers thousands of years ago (as far back as 900 BC!) to position their homes favorably: exposed to the sun, near water, out of the way of harsh winds. It was also used as a system for figuring out where to situate the graves of ancestors so that they would not be subject to floods or typhoons. It has its roots in a number of different systems of belief, including Taoism, Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism, and Vashtu Shastri.

So what do ancient ancestor grave locations and traditional Chinese farming have to do with where you place your bed in a room? A lot, as it turns out. Because while you may not be worrying about typhoons and floods on an everyday basis (though we unfortunately are having to do so more and more), you still should be concerned with your relationship to your environment. Feng Shui is an acknowledgement of our place in nature, and a desire to live in harmony with the elements. Like many traditional Chinese techniques and philosophies, Feng Shui strives for the free flow of qi, or energy, which is made up of yin and yang, the two opposing forces that make up everything (think light and dark, high and low, feminine and masculine, etc.). If you balance the yin and the yang in equal proportion, you allow the qi to flow unimpeded and energetically.

How to Achieve Feng Shui in Your Own Space

Because Feng Shui has been around for so long, there are, understandably, many different approaches to it: the Form School, the most ancient of the approaches, which “examines and assesses the ‘form’ of physical objects and shapes in the natural and built environment, along with transformational elements, qi flow and the manifestations of yin and yang”; the Compass School, which takes a more mathematical approach to the placement and direction of objects; and Contemporary Feng Shui. We won’t do a deep dive into into the history, origins, and philosophies of each of these schools (at least not here), but suffice it to say that there are a few core tenets of many of the different schools of Feng Shui, and these are what you can incorporate into your own life and living—and working—spaces:

Commanding Positions: Make sure that the important pieces of furniture in your home (your bed, your desk, etc.) are in line with the door. They don’t have to be directly facing the door, but you also don’t want your back to be to the door when using them. You should be able to see the door from that commanding position. This way, positive qi can flow easily into the room, and to you.

Declutter & Clear Obstacles: Clutter is one of the quickest ways to block positive energy and mar the Feng Shui of any space. Ideally, you want to try to rid your entire home of clutter, but at the very least, make sure your entryway and work space are clean and neat. You will notice a huge difference in your mental state by just organizing all those papers and books scattered all over your desk. Along similar lines, make sure that there are no obstacles in your regular paths through your space. Don’t place a giant table in the middle of a hallway so that you have to sidestep around it every time you go by; even a rug that always curls up and trips you on your way to the kitchen could be considered an obstacle. Remove these bumps in the qi’ path as much as possible.

Embrace the Living! Living things, be they plants or animals, are so important to ward off negative energy and summon good qi. In fact, certain indoor plants can actually purify the air inside your home, and pets have been shown to decrease cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, and boost moods in their owners. While a pet may be a commitment you’re not able or willing to make, you can certainly fill your home and line your window sills with aloe vera, spider plants, peace lilies and Boston ferns.

Strategic Mirrors: If you have a “dead end” in your home—perhaps the end of a hallway that doesn’t lead directly into a room, for example—placing a mirror there, and angling it towards a “throughway” in the space can help to direct the qi further on its way.

As you can see, a lot of the basic tenets of Feng Shui might already be common sense to you: you place a mirror at the end of that hallway because it looked good! You chose a slim side table for the entryway rather than that giant trunk! It’s easy to trivialize these things—there’s certainly a trend, as Feng Shui has entered the more mainstream and Western consciousness over the last few decades, to dismiss the benefits. People assume Feng Shui belongs to interior decorators, to the Marie Kondos of the world, to people who subscribe to “woo woo” ideas. Of course, it does concern interior decoration and design, but it’s also about so much more: as we’ve all learned these past 20 months, the spaces we inhabit—be they our apartments, our beds, desks, tiny studios with partners or roommates, or by ourselves, our blocks, our roads, our neighborhoods, our planet—are so important to our wellbeing. Let’s treat them, and ourselves, with care and intentionality.