Feng Shui is the Chinese practice of rearranging your living or work environment to positively impact all aspects of your life. Many people in the western world dismiss Feng Shui as superstition or confuse the practice with mysticism. However, the art and science of Feng Shui is about much more than balancing the Yin and Yang. Contemporary Feng Shui can best be understood as a set of metaphors used to understand the “architectural goodness” or mental and physical benefits of a living or working space. The tenets of Feng Shui are far from irrational, and designed in response to basic human psychology and physiology.
A good combination of earth elements - via harmonyvillage.ca
What is Feng Shui?
Feng Shui originated in ancient China and directly translates into “Wind-Water” in English. Historically, Feng Shui was used to orient buildings, such as tombs or dwellings, in an auspicious manner. The positioning of these buildings was determined by local features such as the stars and elements of the landscape. The original Feng Shui masters advised clients to avoid building structures too high on a mountain where it would be exposed to high winds, or too low in a valley where it would be vulnerable to flooding. The art and science of Feng Shui is therefore rooted in practical principles that respond to very real human needs and fears.
Our work and living spaces have psychological effects on our mental states, mood, and behaviour. The purpose of Feng Shui is to establish a harmonious relationship between the cosmos, the physical environment, and man made structures. To accomplish this, Feng Shui practitioners must consider and be sensitive to the human psyche.
Main piece of furniture should face the main entryway - via harmonyvillage.ca
Feng Shui and the Psyche
In recent years, neuroscience has turned its focus to investigating the built environment, and fields such as biophilic design and environmental psychology have begun exploring the psychological underpinnings of design practices that target the mind, body, and spirit.
As humans we continue to understand our built environments on a primal level. According to Barbara Stewart, an architect and Feng Shui practitioner, “humans feel most comfortable in spaces that follow nature, instead of monochromatic bubbles.” She elaborates, stating that humans prefer natural design elements, such as hardwood floors, because they emulate the forest floor. The ground in your home should be dark, like a forest path, while the ceiling should be light and bright like the sky. A monochromatic setting or a single-colour room is unnatural and can actually induce and increase stress, according to Stewart.
Our primal instincts also come into play in the “command position.” In Feng Shui, the command position refers to the placement of furniture in a meaningful way that encourages the homeowner to take control of the room, and ultimately their life. This tenet of Feng Shui recommends positioning the central piece of furniture in a room (such as the bed, desk, or couch) so that you can comfortably face the doorway while keeping your back to the far wall. This tradition is not arbitrary - it taps into our brain’s fight or flight response, known in the field of psychology as the “acute stress response.” This response is found in the part of the brain connected to our primitive behaviours, which can trigger a number of physiological responses. When we are positioned with our backs to a room’s primary entryway, this acute stress response is triggered, affecting our mood and health. In contrast, when we sit in the command position, we are able to see any potential enemies or opportunities, while also feeling safe and supported by the back wall. When we position our furniture to complement our primitive responses, we actively reduce mental and physical stress, and create a balanced and relaxed atmosphere.
Green is the colour of balance
The five elements are another component of Feng Shui that tap into our psychological responses to colour and light. Feng Shui is concerned with finding balance, and divides the world into five basic elements - wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each element taps into a different mood and is associated with a set of colours and textures.
This month, we’ve already discussed the psychological effects of colour, and the five elements tap into this relationship between the psyche and colour. For example, too much of the fire element (shades of red, orange, and yellow) can lead to rage, while not enough can leave the room lifeless and unstimulating. Similarly, the earth element, which incorporates shades of green and blue, provides a sense of calm and stability. Colours like green and blue are considered to be calming colours because they are often found in nature and are located at the centre of the spectrum, creating a sense of balance, security, and restfulness. However, according to Feng Shui practitioners Eric Cuestas-Thompson and Michael Bamba, too much of the earth element can feel rigid and create the feeling of being stuck in life.
The five elements also tap into our need to retain connections to plant life and water, which is increasingly difficult in our urban cityscapes. The wood element signifies growth, and a lack of this element in a space can lead to a sense of barrenness and stagnation. As we discussed earlier this month, plants are not only aesthetically pleasing, but have a number of positive psychological and social effects. Plant life in the home and workplace has been proven to reduce stress, keep us calm, increase concentration, and improve our mood. Plant life also helps purify the air in our home and reduce indoor pollution. According to a study conducted by NASA in the 1980s, the Areca Palm, Bamboo Palm, Rubber Plant, English Ivy, and Boston fern were among the best air purifying indoor plants.
Terrariums are also a good way to bring some greenery into the home
Similarly, the water element is connected to our emotional wellbeing. According to Thompson and Bamba, too much water in the home or workplace can lead to depression, while not enough water can contribute to emotional shutdown. In the city, “blue spaces,” or access to waterways such as lakes, rivers, and seas, can have a significant effect on our mental and physical health as they promote relaxation and facilitate a sense of wellbeing.
Thompson and Bamba also look at the physical objects within a space and how they speak to our human instincts. A tangle of messy cords near our television, when caught by our peripheral vision, may be interpreted by our subconscious mind as a snake. This kind of mess and clutter can upset our unconscious mind and disrupt the room’s sense of balance. Since our psyche is seeking balance and safety, it is important to ensure all objects in the home are working in harmony. Balance can be achieved by adopting a minimalist lifestyle, which involves surrounding yourself with only the most meaningful objects and reducing the clutter in your home. Creating a clutter-free home will simultaneously reduce the clutter in your mind and help ideas flow more easily. Simplifying your belongings will naturally create a sense of harmony in your living space.
In the west, we have the tendency to view nature as subordinate to man, whereas the Chinese are more open to the idea that man is a part of nature. Though these worldviews may be a generalization, they can help us to think about the way we treat nature and intangible elements when arranging the spaces where we live and work. When decorating your office or living space, it is important to pause and listen to your emotional responses and instincts. Take a moment to stop and consider how a design makes you feel and how your mood changes depending on the placement of furniture, the use of light, or the introduction of new materials and textures. You don’t need to study Feng Shui to gain insight into the state of your home - simply listen to your instincts while you plan your space.