What Is Feng Shui and How Does It Work?

By Amanda Lutz | May 13, 2024

Bedroom designed with feng shui. Lots of plants and a bonsai tree as decor.

More than half of Americans are stressed during the day, and a whopping 94% of people report feeling stressed at work. Such numbers make it more important than ever to turn your home into a happy and healthy environment, where you can relieve daily tensions. Many people believe creating a relaxing space begins with arranging objects in the environment in a specific way. The practice of feng shui offers a blueprint for putting such beliefs into action.

Feng shui is an ancient Chinese practice for arranging living and working spaces to promote health, harmony, and balance. It centers around energy flow and the ways items in your environment affect how you feel about your surroundings. There’s evidence that people in China have been designing their homes and towns using the principles of feng shui for more than 4,000 years. The practice continues to influence interior design around the world today.


What Is Feng Shui?

Feng shui is an ancient Chinese art that involves strategically arranging spaces to allow for proper energy flow that aligns with natural forces. Translated literally, the words feng and shui mean wind and water. More commonly, the practice is referred to as the way of wind and water. It’s based on the idea that all objects harness energy. Therefore, the way you arrange furniture and other elements in your living space can impact how you feel in your home.

Feng shui practitioners believe that balancing opposing but complementary energies increases the flow of good energy to generate good health, improved relationships, luck, and prosperity. The practice dictates where objects should be placed in relation to windows and doors and the use of the five natural elements in decorating.


History and Origins

While the exact beginnings of feng shui aren’t recorded, it’s widely accepted that the practice emerged during the Zhou dynasty, more than 4,000 years ago, and is rooted in Taoist beliefs surrounding the flow of the life force (chi). Some of the earliest uses of feng shui determined grave placement in China. Practitioners believed that the right location could bring blessings for future generations and that poor placement would bring misfortune.

Feng shui was used to determine the ideal location of buildings and outdoor features such as gardens. The location of the land and surrounding elements dictated the direction that structures and windows faced. The layout of The Forbidden City, built during the Ming dynasty, follows feng shui principles. Its north-south alignment is meant to achieve a superior position and increase positive energy flow.

The use of feng shui predates most of the design styles used in Western countries, and elements of the practice are used in many of the most popular interior design trends today.


Basic Principles

Feng shui is based on the Taoist belief that everything (including inanimate objects) contains chi, or the life force made up of yin and yang elements. To encourage optimal chi flow and negative energy blocking, several basic principles and concepts are often combined. The basic principles of feng shui used in interior decoration include bagua maps, chi energy, the five elements, and yin and yang.

Bagua Maps

A bagua map is an octagonal energy map featuring eight areas around a center. The maps are placed over the floor plan of a home or each room, with the bottom of the map aligned along the same axis as the front door. Bagua maps are divided into eight areas corresponding to life experiences, such as prosperity, relationships, knowledge, and fame. These sections are also assigned specific colors and elements that align with each attribute. 

Chi Energy

Taoism is based on living in harmony with the universe by balancing the forces of yin and yang that make up chi, or the energy of life. By balancing elements that contain yin and yang energy, Taoists believe that people can improve the flow of positive chi and block negative chi. The practice of feng shui improves the flow of chi through a specific arrangement of furniture, decorations, and even buildings.

The Five Elements

The five natural elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) are said to affect how you feel in a space. The elements are represented by materials in decor and the use of colors in specific areas. 

Yin and Yang

The philosophy of yin and yang is founded on the belief that everything is composed of contradictory energies that can’t be separated. Examples of yang energy include masculine energy, light, fire, sun, and south. Yin energy represents feminine energy, dark, water, moon, and north. Feng shui is used to balance yin and yang to improve the flow of chi.


How Feng Shui Analyzes Spaces

Feng shui can be used to influence architectural layouts and interior design in homes, workplaces, and public spaces. The practice can be used in construction to determine the best location and position for a building. It can also dictate the placement of doors, windows, and rooms.

Many people prefer to incorporate feng shui into interior home design. It’s used to decide furniture placements, wall colors, decor materials, furniture shapes, and other items. For example, placing furniture in commanding positions and locations that won’t disrupt energy flow improves feelings of safety and well-being. Decor choices such as color or decorative items can change the energy in a room.


Tips for Using Feng Shui at Home

Some people work with a feng shui expert to design their home, but you can use what you’ve learned about the practice to make changes on your own. Here are some easy feng shui tips you can apply to various rooms within your home.

Declutter to Improve Energy Flow

A home waste audit can help you eliminate objects that block positive energy and reduce the amount of waste you routinely produce. By removing items that don’t contribute to the purpose of a room, you can open spaces and make better use of valuable space.

Optimize Work Places for Success

Various colors and materials correspond with specific objectives. For example, purple corresponds with wealth, and wood elements are associated with vitality and upward movement. By combining these principles with ideal furniture placement, you can decorate your home office to improve focus and build success.

Place Major Furniture Pieces in a Commanding Position

Ideal furniture placement can enhance feelings of confidence and safety within each room. According to feng shui experts, furniture is in a commanding position when it’s facing a door or entryway and places your back against a solid wall. This allows you to see who is entering the room and know what is behind you.

Put Decor to Work

Home decor that is both beautiful and functional can do double duty in any room. For example, mirrors can be placed to improve visibility and reflect energy, while plants nourish energy and support sustainable decoration efforts.


Suggested Benefits

There is no scientific evidence to directly support the effects of feng shui, but those who use it experience varied benefits, such as improved feelings of security and increased energy flow. Reducing unnecessary clutter and optimizing furniture placement can naturally improve energy and create harmony throughout your home.

Feng shui is said to offer these varied benefits:


Our Recommendation

While feng shui isn’t a magic wand to erase life’s stressors, it can enhance the flow of energy and increase positive feelings in your home. Explore your home to determine where energy flow is constricted and how you can make impactful changes. Consider beginning with small changes, such as introducing natural elements to a room or rearranging furniture. As you become more comfortable with the process, implement additional updates, such as color changes and a complete home waste audit, that will have a larger impact.


Feng Shui FAQ

How do you pronounce feng shui?

There are two ways to pronounce feng shui. “Fuhng-shwey” is the most common pronunciation, but “feng-shwee” is also considered correct.

What does a feng shui master do?

Feng shui masters (sometimes called feng shui consultants) provide various services While there can be many interpretations of feng shui principles, you can typically expect to receive advice about energy flow and using the five elements. A consultation begins with an analysis of your home. The consultant will then make suggestions about how to improve your home’s energy flow. You may receive advice about where to place furniture and how to use color effectively. Tools such as bagua maps may be used to assist the process.

Is feng shui real or pseudoscience?

While feng shui is considered real by some people, it is technically classified as a pseudoscience because there is no scientific research to support its benefits. However, the results of feng shui vary from person to person and often yield the expected outcome.

How much does a feng shui consultation cost?

The cost of a feng shui consultation can vary from one professional to the next. Costs typically range between $500 and $1,500. Some consultants charge by the hour, while others charge a flat fee for the entire service.
*Cost data was sourced from HomeAdvisor, Angi, and Fixr.

Can feng shui attract love?

Feng shui cannot be guaranteed to attract love. However, feng shui experts offer various tips surrounding bedroom decoration and the use of color, lighting, and imagery to attract love.