The practice of feng shui is nothing new. In fact, it’s ancient. It’s a way to think about how deeply connected you are to your home and environment that has its roots in Chinese practical arts. And while having every room in your home arranged with feng shui in mind may not be a reasonable goal for you (we get it!), it can be a useful tool in changing the way you think about how your home makes you feel.
In fact, incorporating just the basics of feng shui can have a huge impact on the quality of the time you spend at home.
What is feng shui?
Sometimes referred to as geomancy—the art of placing buildings auspiciously—at its core, feng shui is a system of arranging rooms, homes, and even communities in order to ensure they’re in harmony with different spiritual forces and the flow of energy or chi.
Feng shui expert Ken Lauher explains that for people brand new to feng shui, the concept of chi can sound intimidating. “People know it when they feel it,” says Lauher. Instead of thinking about it as a flow of energy, you can think of it more as the vibe you get from a space.
We’ve all gone into a room and had the feeling that something is not quite right. You can’t get comfortable or relax; according to the principles of feng shui, that indicates there is something disrupting the flow of energy. On the other hand, if you’ve ever stepped inside a room and it just felt right and wanted to hang out there, you’ve experienced the indication of good chi.
At a deeper level, most of us can relate to feng shui’s emphasis on balance and healthfully responding to continual change. Even if you’re unfamiliar with feng shui, your experiences of life’s binaries—for example, negative and positive, male and female, night and day, and logic and intuition—may attract you to a system that aims to strike a balance between opposites not only in the mind, but in our actual living spaces as well.
A Brief History of Feng Shui
Feng shui has existed as a significant part of Chinese culture since around 4000 B.C. and its focus has always been on helping people act in harmony and coexist with nature. It wasn’t just practiced in China—in fact, its practice expanded through many parts of Asia including Taiwan, Korea, and Vietnam.
Feng shui greatly affected how people interacted with their environments and it had a big impact on traditional architecture. An article published out of Jiangsu University in 2014 titled “Traditional Feng Shui Architecture as an Inspiration for the Development of Green Buildings,” explains that in the diverse climates of China, people utilized feng shui to adapt their architecture to their environments, not vice versa. In the mountains, people built stone houses; in the plains, homes were built with soil. Feng shui also encouraged people to position buildings to make the best possible use of the warmth and light of the sun. This history continues to inform feng shui’s legacy in ways that might help you get back in touch with nature, regardless of where you live.
Like many traditional practices, feng shui’s popularity has ebbed and flowed both within and outside of China. While it has been disregarded as a pseudoscience and was even banned in China at certain points in history, since the ‘90s there has been a resurgence of feng shui in its country of origin.
Beginning With the Bagua Map
While the history of feng shui may interest you, your biggest concern is probably how you can incorporate feng shui’s principles in your living spaces. Feng shui in the home is largely based off of a bagua map (check out HealthyWay’s below!). Feng shui expert Marla Stone says, “Understanding the bagua, or the nine separate areas of your home, is essential to starting any feng shui project.”
The nine areas are prosperity, fame and recognition, love and relationships, family, health, children and creativity, skills and knowledge, career, and, lastly, helping people and travel.
A bagua map is traditionally shown as an octagon. Each of its sections, which are depicted in three rows of three, represents one of the nine areas of life. Health is positioned in in the center. One of the major goals of feng shui is to build up all nine areas in each room and your home as a whole.
Stone suggests starting by sketching out a map of your entire home. Draw a simple sketch of your floor plan, then lay a bagua map on top with the front door aligned with either skills and knowledge, career, or helping people and travel. This will show you where each area of your home lands on the bagua map, and thus what each room represents. Then you can repeat the process for each individual room to reveal its nine different areas.
“Building up all nine areas of any space that you feng shui is the goal,” says Stone. “To test out the feng shui magic, choose one or two areas to work on improving.” For example, Stone suggests focusing on love and relationships. Declutter that area of the room first, then place symbolic objects in the area. Stone recommends adding in purple, pink, or red objects that symbolize love, like a pink flowering plant.
Feng Shui First Steps
If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, have no fear. You don’t need to redo your whole home in a day. The baby steps way of incorporating feng shui into your home can be done in one afternoon.
You’ve heard of Marie Kondo, right? She wrote The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which went viral in 2016. Her whole approach is one big feng shui basic: decluttering. To reduce clutter for feng shui, you don’t need to get as over the top with it (no speaking of your favorite socks required). That said, paring down to what you actually need is a component of feng shui because it can help you feel calm.
Have you ever looked inside your junk drawer and wanted to scream? That’s why decluttering is necessary.
Adding in houseplants is another great place to start. Not only do houseplants add a lively element to the room, they can also help clean your air, scrubbing it of harmful gasses. (If you’ve never had a houseplant, we’ve got a whole list of our favorites you can scroll through.)
You can also focus on light. Do you have any bulky, dark curtains hung over your windows, blocking out the natural daylight? Switching to lighter curtains can allow more natural light into your home. These quick steps can make a big impact with minimal effort.
Incorporating Feng Shui Into Your Space Room by Room
Feng Shui in Your Entryway
Your entryway is one of the most important spaces in the home according to feng shui’s principles, notes Lauher. He recommends you consider not just the space inside your home, but the area outside as well. Anything that blocks your door (flower pots, outdoor furniture, and the like) can disrupt the flow of chi and set a negative feeling coming into your home. For people in apartments, Lauher says, “We focus on what we can change and not what we can’t.” So don’t sweat it if you can’t make big changes to your rented entryway.
The main goal is to make your home’s threshold clear and easy to get inside so your entryway can feel welcoming. Lauher also recommends looking at the little things that may set a negative tone like an old, dirty welcome mat or a scuff on a wall that has yet to be repainted. Cleaning up the little things is helpful for crafting a welcoming entryway.
Once you’re inside, Lauher says the area should be “clean, clear, and bright.”
He goes on to say, “It’s always recommended to have some type of life energy present so you can see it,” meaning having a houseplant inside your entryway is a good plan. He also suggests a rug to warm up the space and make it more inviting.
Dining Room Flow
“The dining room is all about eating, appetite, healthy food, community, family,” says Tisha Morris, feng shui expert. She suggests placing the focus on making sure your dining room table fits your needs. If it’s too small (or too large, or the wrong shape for you) you’re less likely to use it.
Making sure that your dining room is used is the key to keeping good energy flowing in the room. Keep in mind how you normally use the room. Do you like to host big dinner parties? Do your kids plunk down and do homework on the table? Having answers to these questions will help ensure you get the right dining room table.
The other thing to keep in mind is color. Paint the walls a color that is appealing to you, advises Morris. “You want appetizing colors; think about colors of food you would eat.” Her own dining room is a deep burgundy shade, but she also recommends green tones. “Green is the color of health and vitality.”
Chi in the Kitchen
Another one of the most important spaces in your home according to Lauher is the kitchen. It’s the space where you prepare food (and probably eat, too) and can represent wealth in your home. Lauher recommends a cleanup first and foremost. “You want it to be as clean and clear as possible”.
Anything that clutters your counters can make food preparation a pain. Bulky coffee makers, seldom used kitchen gadgets, and stacks of cookbooks can be cleared away to make room for the area’s unique purpose: cooking. Being present with your cooking is important, and making sure you’ve got a clear working space allows you to focus on your actions instead of going through the motions or working around a mess.
Other little things like not storing pans on top of your stove and making sure to use all of the burners (instead of favoring the same one) can help to add balance to your kitchen. Lauher also suggests incorporating fresh herbs into your kitchen. They bring in life, they smell good, they’re useful, and they can inspire you to cook healthy meals.
Living Room Energy
To incorporate feng shui into your living room, it’s helpful to have the purpose of this room in the back of your mind. Do you regularly host a book club? Does your whole family pack in for movie nights?
“Depending on what the primary function of the room is, is how you would arrange the furniture” says Morris. She suggests if the focus is on communicating, comfortable chairs around a coffee table would be your best bet. If you’re mostly in the living room for the TV, centering your seating around the TV will fit the purpose.
Feng Shui Works at Home
Especially for those of us who work from home, the home office needs to have a good energy so you can focus and get your work done. Feng shui practitioner Melissa Waite Stamps suggests starting first with the placement of your desk. She advises putting the desk in what feng shui refers to as the “command position.” This position should be in sight of the door, but not directly in line with it.
She also suggests focusing on lighting. “Full spectrum lighting is an excellent choice because good lighting helps keep you focused.”
The Bagua in Your Bedroom
The bedroom is possibly the most important room in your home. It’s the place you spend hours sleeping, and it’s also an important place for intimacy for couples. Lauher says the number one thing to do in your bedroom is to get the position of your bed correct. According to feng shui, energy moves along lines and pathways and through openings like doors and windows, so facing the door or a window can make it hard to relax and you know, sleep.
The ideal location for your bed, according to Lauher, is in view of the door but not directly in line with it. Other things like having a sturdy headboard (which represents confidence and stability in your relationships) can also help.
Chi for the Kiddos
A child’s room is important not only because it’s where they sleep, but usually where they play as well. Feng shui practitioner Sue Fishkin suggests the same “command position” for kids’ beds since it will allow the sleeper to see if someone is entering the room.
“Color is very important in feng shui,” says Fishkin. To inspire a child’s creativity, she recommends white and pastel colors along with metal elements. You can also use a bagua map in the room to determine the best place to set up a desk or reading area.
Flushing the Negativity Away With Feng Shui
Your bathroom can be the most negative space in your home, says Morris. “Regardless of where your bathroom is [on the bagua map], you want to negate that negative energy.” To do this, spend a little time making your bathroom as spa like as possible.
People regularly forget to decorate their bathrooms, but little things like hanging up a couple of photos or introducing a plant can help give the space some life. Instead of making your bathroom a utility driven room, prioritize giving it some personality.
“The energy of a bathroom should be about self care” says Morris.
Feng Shui For All
Howard Choy, principal of the European College of Feng Shui, says that the tradition of feng shui can expand to every culture by “going back to the basic human needs, the need to be loved, the need to feel secured, and the need to procreate and to survive as a human race.” Choy tells HealthyWay that at its deeper levels, feng shui is universal and transcultural.
Feng shui expert Susan Chu shares that feng shui runs deep in her family. Her mother learned feng shui in elementary and junior high school growing up in China in the ‘50s and early ‘60s.
“It was part of her curriculum similar to arts or music in American schools. I’m not sure when the ban happened, so my mom might have learned it being called something else.”
Chu says today the majority of her Chinese friends do not practice feng shui. “It’s something their parents might have learned and little tidbits of info passed down, but it is an art that is disappearing.”
In 2004, a study conducted by Feng Shui Institute International (FSII) polled 133,848 people in the United States and Canada and found that 77 percent of them were aware of feng shui. People’s awareness didn’t necessarily mean that they were believers in the power of feng shui, though. Of those polled, 37 percent of women and 29 percent of men reported that they believed that feng shui could improve their quality of life.
But Barbara Taylor, FSII’s executive director, said that was an increase from years past. “The data validates trends that feng shui practitioners have been observing in their day to day work: there is an increasing integration of feng shui into people’s lives.”
The popularity of feng shui in North America is also evidenced by the number of feng shui practitioners working in the U.S. and Canada, many of whom have interesting backgrounds and intensive training.
After a childhood fascination with rearranging furniture, Lauher, for example, went to work in corporate America and didn’t start officially learning feng shui until he was an adult. He says he studied under the world’s foremost feng shui master, His Holiness Grandmaster Professor Lin Yun Rinpoche as well as Steven Post, the first American feng shui teacher.
Morris also learned as an adult through the Feng Shui Training Center. She is now is a feng shui teacher herself and is one of the many North American consultants in the International Feng Shui Guild’s directory.
For those who do seek it out, Chu says feng shui can be hugely impactful. “Feng shui is about living in harmony … above, below, and within. When we are living in harmony, life naturally flows.”
It’s not magic though. Chu says that having a feng shui home doesn’t mean you won’t encounter any obstacles in life. “We, as human beings, unfortunately, [make] life more difficult for ourselves. It’s a matter of going with the flow and feng shui [can] help create that in our lives.”