Feng shui was developed over centuries through careful study by masters who identified placements that worked and placements that didn't whether it was a building, grave site or the shape and location of rooms in a house. It has evolved into a very complex discipline. In fact, to become a feng shui master takes many years of study and the tutelage of a master.
There actually are seven schools of thought and practice of feng shui. They are: Nine stars, eight entrances and bagua combination; surprising entrances and escaping Jai; orthodox five elements; double mountain, three harmonies and five elements; bagua and five elements; profound emptiness and five elements; and Hong Fen five elements.
Most of what you have seen written on feng shui is centered around the bagua and five elements school. This approach can be simplified so that anyone can make some adjustments to his or her living space and generate positive outcomes. You probably have seen the bagua map. The five elements may or may not have been presented depending on the depth of the article or class being presented. The five elements include: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
Another approach you may have seen is the nine stars, eight entrances and bagua combination. This practice uses not only the bagua map but the physical orientation of the building as it relates to the points on a compass. The feng shui master uses a special, very intricate compass called a lo pan. Typically, a feng shui practitioner, and an advanced one at that, would add this level of complexity.
Chi: The Movement of Energy
Regardless of which school of thought you follow, the key to success with feng shui is the movement and control of energy. This energy, in Chinese is qi. In English, it is spelled and pronounced chi.
One of the very first concepts in understanding chi is that everything -- animate or inanimate -- has energy. As you look at each item you own you will have feelings about it. You either like an item or you don't. You either need an item or you don't.
Even before we get into a more complex analysis you can begin having a great impact on your chi by clearing out and letting go. If you don't absolutely need or love an item, get rid of it now. That is negative chi and drags down the energy in the entire space. Release the chi. Clean up and clean out. Purge.
Depending on the layout of the house being analyzed and its belongings, chi can move at different speeds. If there is no energy flow the chi does not move and the house becomes stagnant as do the lives of the people in it. On the other hand, if the chi moves too quickly the occupants may be constantly in motion and frenetic, seemingly out of control and not accomplishing much.
If you study the lifestyle of the inhabitants, you can almost guess what the energy is like in their home. If they stay home, watch television and do nothing, the chi is not moving. If they are always coming and going, the chi probably is moving too fast. Obviously some middle ground is preferred.
To control energy the feng shui master uses nine basic cures. In an area that has rapidly moving chi these cures trap it and slow it down. If the energy is moving too slowly these objects add energy and move the chi along. Placement of these cures is everything. Ideas on placement will be given later.
What is nice about these cures is that many of the objects may be around the house already or can be purchased inexpensively. And they can be easily placed in the room or house to enhance the chi with some study and planning, but not a great deal of effort.
The Five Elements
As mentioned above, there are five basic elements that are symbolic in the practice of feng shui. Interestingly enough, these elements also are used in Chinese medicine to analyze the patient's health and how the body is out of balance. By studying the characteristics of each element you can learn how it can be used to enhance the energy in a home or a room.
Wood. This element symbolizes the characteristics of forgiveness, benevolence and loyalty. When these traits are to be enhanced in an environment symbols of wood should be used.
Symbols include anything made of wood. Plants, whether indoor or outdoor, real or faux, also are included. Fabrics created from plant-based fibers such as cotton, rayon and linen represent wood. Prints that are floral in style on fabrics or wallpaper also represent wood.
Other important objects are artwork containing flowers, gardens or landscapes, the colors green and blue and structural elements such as columns, beams, pedestals or poles.
Fire. Etiquette, wisdom and reason are the traits symbolized by fire. To introduce this element into a space use any form of lighting as well as a flame from a fireplace or candle.
The use of things made from animals, such as fur, leather, wool or animals themselves in the form of pets will enhance this element. The color red and shapes based on triangles, cones or pyramids also represent fire. Art containing people, animals, sunshine, light or fire also can be used effectively.
Metal. Attention to detail, fairness and righteousness are metal traits. Creativity also is very important to this element. Areas that need to be enhanced for these characteristics should include any kind of metal object, rocks, crystals, gem stones, shapes that are oval, circular or arched, colors that are white or pastel and art or sculpture that is made of metal or stone.
Earth. Traits of the earth are honesty, caring for others and reliability. Colors that symbolize earth are yellows and earth tones. Anything made of substances from the earth such as adobe, brick, tile, ceramic, earthenware and pottery will enhance earth characteristics in a space.
Shapes that are square or rectangular and art showing deserts and fields also will benefit this element.
Water. Using any kind of water is good. A fountain, fish tank or art showing water is relevant. Reflective surfaces such as mirrors, glass and crystal as well as colors that are dark toned or black represent water. Free flowing, asymmetrical shapes characterize water.
Traits enhanced by these modifications would be social and business contacts, career insight and motivation.
Yin and Yang
Yin and yang are terms you probably have heard before in connection with Chinese culture. They are opposites. If one thing is yin, its opposite is yang.
Unfortunately, in our Western culture we tend to think in terms of positive and negative. This is not the same as yin and yang. Yin is symbolized by feminine, cool, dark, soft, rounded, earth, moon, small, ornate, wide, horizontal and floral images. Yang is symbolized by the opposites: masculine, warm, light, hard, angular, sky, sun, large, plain, narrow, vertical and geometrical.
Being either one or the other does not make something inherently good or bad. What matters is that there is a comfortable mix in the environment. If a room is filled with only yang things, it is stiff and uncomfortable. On the other hand, if all of the objects are yin types, the room is too soft and still uncomfortable. Though a room may be a little more yin than yang, or vice versa, it is a balance that we need to strive for in design.
With the basic concepts of chi, the five elements and yin and yang covered, you can begin to study environments you have already designed or are in the process of designing. Strive to balance the chi and the yin and yang and then enhance the elements based on the traits or attributes you wish to bring out in people.
Susan Dudics-Dean is owner of Celestial Designs and an interior designer who has worked in the San Francisco Bay area of California for more than 11 years. She also is a newspaper columnist and seminar speaker.
The Nine Basic Cures 1. The movement of light using mirrors, faceted crystals and lights.
2. The movement of sound using bells or wind chimes.
3. The movement of living things through flowers, birds, aquariums or plants (real or faux).
4. The movement of air created by fountains, mobiles, windmills or whirligigs.
5. The stability of objects such as statues or stones.
6. The energy of electrical objects including televisions, stereo units, air conditioners and electrical fans.
7. The symbols of music such as bamboo flutes.
8. The use of colors.
9. Other enhancements including red ribbons, art, swags, fringes, antique coins and bagua plaques.