This month I’ve been writing about Qi – the Chinese concept of energy that’s central to practices such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, martial arts, feng shui, and has parallels in numerous other cultures. (You can read Part One and Part Two, which cover the nature of energy and the profound changeability of the human body.) In learning about Qi, having someone cause your Qi to move and coalesce through acupuncture can be invaluable. But you don’t need another person in order to have an experience of Qi; Qi-based arts such as feng shui and qi gong can help you perceive the energy around and within you.
Feng shui (pronounced “fung shway”) means wind and water, the two main flowing forces in the natural world. It is the art of evaluating, structuring, and utilizing spaces in a way that ensures the most harmonious flow of Qi through and around them, for the benefit of their occupants. Thousands of years ago, it was used to orient buildings favorably with regard to the celestial bodies. Over time, it developed into many different schools of thought with innumerable principles governing how buildings and civic infrastructure should be shaped, how they should be oriented with regard to the surrounding landscape, and how they should be decorated. The basic idea is that if the Qi in a living space is optimized, the lives of the inhabitants of the space will work better.
While I appreciate the centuries of investigation that made feng shui the detailed science it is, in my opinion what’s most vital about it are the fundamental ideas on which it is based: we are surrounded by Qi, we can learn to perceive this Qi, and the flow of Qi around and within us has an impact on our lives. If you’re interested in delving into Feng Shui, there are many good books available (I like Nancy SantoPietro’s Feng Shui: Harmony by Design), but I encourage you to hone and follow your own senses. This will do you more good than any particular rules, especially if you’re interested in developing your perception of Qi. Feng shui can be simple and organic, and it’s a fun and practical way to gain a firsthand feel for Qi.
As an exercise, take a slow walk through your living space and see what you pick up. Rather than thinking of yourself as an interior designer, start by considering how wind and water would flow through the space. Feel for where the Qi moves most swiftly, and where it tends not to go. Our living space should feel neither stagnant nor tumultuous.
Consider the following questions – and what might be done to remedy these situations:
- Can you see where a certain piece of furniture blocks the natural path through a room? Or an angular or protruding piece of the decor feels unharmonious with the rest of the space?
- Are there places that seem vulnerable, like a chair with its back to a door, or a bed with something precarious hanging over it?
- If someone walks into your house are they immediately thrust into the flow of your living space, like being caught in a swift river, or is there an area for them to become acclimated to the space first?
- Are there areas that seem stagnant (corners are likely culprits)?
- Are there aspects of your space that feel symbolically unhealthy? Some examples are:
- A cluttered mess under or around your bed (remember, this is where you go to let go of everything and experience rest and rejuvenation)
- A ceiling beam above a bed that appears to separate the couple that shares it
- Tangled cords, burnt out light bulbs, or something in glaring need of repair
- A piece of furniture that blocks a window
- Objects that represent bygone relationships
- Dead things – plants, bugs, etc.
There are specific feng shui tools for correcting these things, but you can make many improvements by just using your intuition. Each of the different schools of feng shui has its own nuances, and in my opinion, some of the rules and symbolism are of questionable value, but the following basic principles are most universal and feel right to me:
- Avoid clutter. Get rid of junk, especially things that you have an unhealthy emotional relationship with.
- Keep your home well maintained.
- Bring the elements and balance of the outside world into your living space.
- Learn the history of a space you’re considering moving into. Have you ever known a commercial location where it seemed business after business went in and failed? Perhaps there is a practical or feng shui reason for this trend. What about the previous owners of your house? Were they happy there?
- Invite natural light (sun, candles, etc.) into your space.
- Invite fresh air into your space.
- Let balance be your main guiding principle when designing a space.
- Trust your intuition.
- Place important “stations” - your bed, desk, and stove - in a way that gives you the largest view of the room when lying / sitting / standing at them, and allows you to see the doorway.
- Use the “nine basic cures” to fix the feng shui of your space: (from Nancy SantoPietro)
- 1) lights / bright objects – to lift up and expand the Qi (lights, crystal balls, candles, lanterns, etc.)
- 2) mirrors – to deflect Qi, expand narrow areas, turn oppressive images (like a towering building) upside down, reflect and draw in positive images, open up closed spaces, etc.
- 3) sound – keeps energy moving (wind chimes, stereo, musical instruments)
- 4) life force – stimulates Qi (plants, fish tanks, birds, bonsai trees, flowers, pets)
- 5) heavy objects – diffuse rushing Qi, hold down Qi/issues (rocks, statues, sculptures, etc.)
- 6) color – enhances (bright colors) or softens (pastels) Qi, and specific colors can enhance different arenas of life (Google “feng shui ba gua”)
- 7) movement / mobile objects – disperse negative or stagnant Qi (mobiles, wind chimes, tassels (red and gold), flags, windmills, fountains, weather vanes, etc.)
- 8) power / energy objects – convey strength and power (firecrackers, arrowheads, talismans, etc)
- 9) water – circulates Qi, thought to activate wealth (fountains, fish tanks, brooks, streams, ponds – especially with fish, vases or bowls of water, etc.)
- Also common in feng shui are bamboo flutes (lift oppressive Qi), beaded curtains (as dividers), crystals/gems (raise energy), fragrances (clear negative energy), and of course, your own personal touches and items of significance to you.
I realize these lists may leave you with more questions, but I encourage you to try “feeling out” your own responses and solutions before looking them up in a book. And, rather than automatically accepting the symbolic meanings of these various scenarios and interventions, do some experimentation. Tune in and see what you perceive.
Wishing you a space that fully supports you,
Dr. Peter Borten
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