You know the feeling: you walk into a room and you can feel the energy being sucked right out of you. It's difficult to summon up the momentum to do anything. Or else the room makes you twitchy, distracted, unable to concentrate. Conversely, other spaces somehow just seem to feel right. Walk inside and you feel calm and centered and connected to the universe. What makes the difference among these spaces?
The Chinese practice of feng shui (pronounced fung shway) emerged many centuries ago as a way to place and arrange buildings and furnishings to create a harmonious environment. The theory relies on the concept of chi (or Qi), the subtle energy that flows through every living thing. Early practitioners would study the form of the land, looking at the flow of water and air through the space to determine the flow of chi. According to feng shui, smoothly flowing chi is necessary to the well-being of everyone who occupies a given space. If chi is blocked or stuck, then the person's life will stagnate; if chi moves through too quickly, it can drain the occupants of their own energy.
"With chi, you want it move through the space, not too fast, and not too slow," explains Marilyn McConaghy, a local practitioner who offers classes in feng shui through the Institute for Extended Learning at the Community Colleges of Spokane. "The ancient Chinese used feng shui to figure out where to place cities and villages, as well as how to orient a house. You could say it was an early form of urban land use planning. They may not have known how diseases like malaria are spread, but they knew that stagnant water was not good."
One key aspect of feng shui is balance - between light and dark, busy and calm, cool and warm. The Chinese express this as balancing the yin and yang energy of a space. Another is the composition of the space in five basic elements: earth, metal, fire, wood, and water. Each element has specific characteristics; too much of one can overwhelm a space. A third consideration is the orientation of the space, generally according to the points of the compass. Feng shui practitioners use an eight-sided shape called the ba gua to determine which areas of a room or building (or city) are focused on specific areas of life, such as relationships, career, and creativity. Keeping the chi flowing through these spaces brings energy to those aspects of one's life, says McConaghy.
"The relationships area is always southwest, for example, while career is always north," she says. "The best place for creativity is facing south. Knowledge and self-cultivation are in the northwest. People do tend to naturally move in the direction that's best for us."
The biggest obstacle to good chi in the home or office is clutter, according to many feng shui experts. If a space is loaded down with objects and paper, then the energy can't flow through and stagnates in place. Clearing out excess clutter is the first step toward freeing the blocked energy.
McConaghy, who also sells residential real estate, says she came to feng shui through the merger of two interests. "My father was an architect, so I've always looked at design," she says. "Then I began doing tai chi and learning about energy flow. I remembered as a kid, when I used to baby-sit at different houses, some of them felt really comfortable, while others didn't feel good at all. I used to analyze that back then, but when I learned about feng shui, it all made sense."
In her classes, she begins with the history of feng shui and the evolution of its four primary schools of learning, and then goes on to fundamental principles. Once the students have a basic understanding, she helps them examine their own spaces to see what needs changing.
"We take a look at their lives to see what areas to work on, and then we analyze the space," she says. "Some of the problems come down to just the design of the house." In that case, she'll offer ideas for redirecting the chi in the space, using feng shui's common tools, like mirrors, crystals, plants or metal wind chimes.
"Mirrors are the aspirin of feng shui," McConaghy says with a smile. "But the idea is that what your eyes register and what your body feels when you enter a space is what's important."
McConaghy will offer her introductory feng shui session at three times and places, starting next week with a three-hour evening class ($15) on Thursday, Feb. 20, at Shadle Park High School. Then she'll do a two-hour workshop ($12) on Feb. 25 at West Valley High School and again on March 5 at Bowdish Middle School. Call the IEL Community Education division at 279-6000 to register.
In addition to the classes, several books offer an introduction to feng shui. McConaghy recommends the feng shui guides by Terah Collins or Angel Thompson, along with anything by Lillian Too. "They all use good principles and are accessible," she says. "They're good sources of information to get started."