Our home is where we want to feel at home. Practicing the art and science of Feng Shui is one way we can make this happen, possibly bringing around peace, wealth and overall positivity to our lives.
Feng Shui, pronounced foong shway, translates to wind (fēng, 风) and water (shuǐ, 水). It is a Chinese means of creating harmony and balance within our personal and professional spaces through design, centring around the flow of energy (Chi or qi, 氣) and the yin and yang. The practice is closely aligned with the Five Elements of Chinese culture: wood, earth, fire, metal and water.
My parents always lived by the traditional Chinese mentality, and they’ve always been keen on aligning the places we lived in Australia and South East Asia with the elements of Feng Shui. For them, rooms and furniture have to be laid out a certain way. Although I learnt why my parents are meticulous about Feng Shui, it’s not something I’m sold on today. At least not completely.
Feng Shui has been around since the 9 BC or maybe even earlier, and China is known to have developed the Feng Shui compass which is also known as the Luo Pan (luó pán, 羅盤). Legend has it around 25 BC the Luo Pan was presented to the Yellow Emperor Huang Di to assist in a heroic battle against evil wizards. Taoist philosophers including Lao Tzu in the Zhou period (600 BC) and Confucius during the Han dynasty (206 BC) related their principles to the concept of Feng Shui. The Great Wall of China was designed based off the principles of Feng Shui with the curved wall signifying constantly moving qi.
Today Feng Shui is practised all over the world by Chinese communities and really anyone who believes in it. Good Feng Shui often means feeling a sense of peace within our spaces: control over our home, control over our lives. Whether we’re moving into yet another rental place or renovating the house we’ve lived in for over a decade, it’s a time where we may think more about incorporating Feng Shui at home.
Tips for good Feng Shui at home
1. Location and view
Location may affect the energy flowing towards and through the place where we live. A house located on the inside of a curved road or with the front door facing an oncoming T-junction is usually considered to have bad Feng Shui: metaphorically speaking the ‘strong and fast’ energy of incoming vehicles goes right towards your place, reminiscent of collision course and deemed a ‘poison-arrow’ (shā qì, 煞氣). The same can be said of a house located right beside a dumpster, a busy station or road. Some believe those living around such locations bring suffer more loss and stress or might constantly find themselves at a cross roads facing ‘blocked energy’.
It’s no surprise many Chinese are keen on choosing places with a good view: facing a swimming pool or the sea (water symbolises wealth) or higher apartment floors to avoid traffic noises or nosy passerbys. Choosing a place with auspicious numbers (such as 2, 6, 8, and doing away with number 4 floors in some Asian countries) is also common. In Australia, real estate agents note Chinese property buyers in Melbourne don’t mind paying more for these kinds of properties. Less noise and commotions outside, the more one can relax in peace at home.
2. Door placement
A house where the front door is directly aligned with the back door is generally not desirable. This conjures up the image that energy coming in from the front flows out directly. The front door leading to a relatively open space as opposed to an enclosed a bedroom, kitchen or bathroom is more ideal With such a floor plan, all the more energy anchored in the centre of the house can flow to all corners of the home instead of qi dominating a certain room.
An open door is also symbolic of invitation, welcoming guests as much as welcoming camaraderie and energy. During the Lunar New Year, many Chinese tidy their front door entrance and leave the door open for good luck to usher in prosperity. Personally, I keep my front door locked at all times because I rather not have any stranger any enter my house. Not taking any chances with any unlocked doors at home, and I prefer opening the window instead around the New Year and summer seasons.
The bedroom is probably our most personal room at home. It could be the room we call our very own or share with someone who means the world to us. Placing the bed in a ‘command position’ facing the door is preferred, but not directly under a window as qi may fly out (rushing air and outside noise filtering through can disrupt sleep). Same goes for sleeping on a bed directly facing a mirror as this is believed to be symbolic of infidelity and one might get more nightmares about themselves.
Also, one side of the bed against a wall is said to disrupt the flow of qi around the room. For good Feng Shui and added sleep support, the top of the bed should have a headboard leaning against a wall (but not against a wall with the toilet on the other side).
In Chinese culture, good sleep support goes with the analogy of sleeping against a solid mountain – resting against something that has got your back. Personally, sleeping directly under a window is not something I like; as someone who likes to wake up at midday on days to myself, even with the blinds down light filters in. As for headboards, never been a fan of them and I prefer stacking pillows over each other as a means of supporting my back, head and neck while sleeping.
4. Water fountain
As one of the Five Elements in Chinese culture, water is symbolic of abundance, wealth, growth and nourishment. Drinkable water is a liquid asset and vital commodity in China where water in some areas is scarce.
Whenever I visit my Chinese relatives in Malaysia, a common sight inside their house or outside in their garden is a water feature. They might have water fountains or fish ponds with goldfish or koi fish. These fish are reminiscent of gold and together with running water, water features are symbolic of incoming flowing wealth through and through.
Apart from water features, plants are also a frequent find in homes with good Feng Shui, representing abundance and continuous growth. Indoor plants such as bamboo plants, money plants (also known as Epipremnum aureum or the Devil’s Ivy) and fake cherry blossom stalks are popular in many Chinese homes. Some say indoor plants help purify the air but there aren’t concrete studies on this. Spiky plants such as cacti are generally considered bad Feng Shui as they are deemed to bring about nervous bouts of energy – but on the flipside cacti can be seen as resonating protective energy.
The only greenery I have in my apartment is a small potted plant gifted by my parents. It sits in the corner of the living room, and sometimes I forget to water it. A lot of the time I forget it’s even there.
6. Colour choices
Colour in Feng Shui strongly correlates with the Five Elements in Chinese culture as well. Red and yellow are reminiscent of fire/relationships, black represents metal/luck, brown is all about earth/knowledge, green symbolises wood/health/wealth and blue illusrates water/career.
It’s common in Chinese culture to colour code the home by type of room and geographic direction: for instance, paint the living room which is facing East to activate the wood element. To counter inauspicious waste water (yang) and negative qi in the bathroom, lighter cream and white (yin) colours are favourable. Earthly dark brown and dark muted red tones are also popular colour schemes in many Asian homes as these shades offer a sense of groundness – a stark contrast to white and black minimalistic modern looks very much popular in the West these days.
I’m not keen on colouring up my home that much. White and cream coloured walls, carpet and tiles is the way I like it as the darker the ambience and furniture, the more I feel like I’m ‘caved in’ so to speak. That said, I do like a splash of light blue here and there (blue couch, blue stuffed monkey that is not Mr Wobbles on the shelf) – blue is my favourite colour and I feel calm looking at blue.
7. Clear clutter
Clutter at home can add up negative qi. Closets bursting to the seams, knick-knacks scattered on the floor and overflowing trash bins equates to untidiness (which is a matter of perspective…). Clutter is arguably stuck energy, blocked energy from fear and pessimism as a result of being a rather careless or absent-minded with our possessions. While I’m not much of a minimalist, I do like my living quarters organised and tidy, putting things away in their ‘proper place’ and if I need anything, I can get it right away.
8. Space and light
Light represents the fire element and is symbolic of stimulating warmth and growth. Minimal clutter along with light shining in through windows, the more inviting and comfortable our home may be. After all, the eye is drawn to light and ambient lighting stimulates conversation during the day.
While I like natural light and enjoy warm walks under the sun, having the blinds up and letting sunlight in is not something I’m a fan of at home. In fact, having the blinds up at home makes me feel awfully exposed to the world. When I was house hunting a while back, it surprised me how many modern apartments and houses have floor to ceiling windows, places which I quickly passed up.
* * *
Feng Shui may be practised every now and then. Many Chinese reassess Feng Shui at home around the Lunar New Year, and it is practised to mark new beginnings, milestones, change and self-improvement. Practising Feng Shui is a choice to make a change, and when we make a change chances are our life might change.
Notably, Feng Shui parallels the concept of mindfulness. To put it simply, mindfulness is about being aware of one’s surroundings and being in the present. This is what Feng Shui is essentially about: taking note of our surroundings and making connections about these surroundings based on practicality, taste and long-held beliefs.
There are different approaches to Feng Shui. Some might see Feng Shui from the traditional a Chinese cultural perspective and others from a Western mindset – philosophy vs science, soft science vs hard science, superstition vs proven methodology. Neuroscience and architectural research by sociologist Dr John Zeisel argues man-made environments affect us and we in turn have an effect on our surroundings with our actions – this is a basis of Feng Shui. Moreover, it’s interesting to note the differences in the design of different gardens: many European gardens tend to lean towards artificial beauty and showcase man dominating over nature, while classical Chinese gardens tend to reflect symmetry and imitate nature.
Does Feng Shui work? Is it an art and science that all just boils down to common sense? Or is it something we’re inclined to believe because it worked for others throughout history? Few studies have been done on the effectiveness of Feng Shui. A study in 2017 by Auckland University of Technology looked at the relationship between feng shui and hotel success, and found two accommodation properties with poorest Feng Shui ratings had the weakest feelings of success (whatever success means since we all define it differently…).
At the end of the day, we want to be comfortable at home, comfortable in our most personal space where we can just be ourselves. I’ve always been a believer in making our space our own based on what we like and makes us tick. There’s nothing like making something ours and feeling connected to it, and feeling like we can just be ourselves.
Taking care of our homes, we take care of ourselves.
Do you practice Feng Shui?