Essential feng shui glossary terms, concepts for architects, interior designers, environmental psychologists
Feng shui A discipline that studies the relationship between people and environments (similar to environmental psychology) with the aim of optimising working environments to boost focus and performance as well as job satisfaction and reduce stress and staff turnover among other things.
Energy flow Energy and energy flow is the key concept in feng shui. Human attention and focus is attracted and moderated by physical elements such as paths, focal points, shapes, colours, plants, lighting and so on.
Yin & Yang Yin and yang is about balancing complimentary elements on every level and avoiding too much of anything. For example, angularity should be balanced with curvilinearity, warm colours with cooling colours, natural daylight with artificial lighting, open spaces with closed spaces, hard surfaces/textures with soft surfaces/textures, etc.
Five elements According to oriental philosophy there are five elements: water, wood, fire, earth and metal which are based on seasons and have corresponding colours, shapes, directions and materials. The aim of feng shui is to have a balanced combination of all the elements in any workspace depending on the needs of people working there.
Bagua model In feng shui, different space can represent different aspects of business such as clients, partnerships, collaboration, innovation, projects, legacy, teamwork, wealth and profits, expertise, success and reputation and so on. Depending on the needs of the company these areas can be energised to boost the corresponding aspects.
Shapes Research suggests that people have a preference for curvilinearity vs. angularity. Adding round or oval shapes will naturally balance angular environments. Sharp corner and patterns should be minimised.
Positioning How workstations are positioned in space can affect the performance of workforce. Sitting in ‘a power / commanding position’ where one has a support of a wall and clear, diagonal view of doors is preferred. Sitting with one’s back to the door or opposite the door or with a window behind can instil feelings of insecurity, stress and even anxiety. For example
Workplaces as metaphors and semiotics Feng shui works through energies, symbols, metaphors, affects, sensations, narratives, anchors, images and expectations. Semiotics is a study of meaning-making and is a very useful tool to help not only to elicit people’s perceptions of any workplace but also to manage those perceptions. How people perceive their workplaces will affect their performance, work satisfaction, staff retention and so on.
A sense of a place / a sense of community A sense of belonging is one of the most important aspects of making offices work. People thrive in places where a sense of community and collaboration is present implicitly and explicitly.
Biophilia Biophilia effect suggests that people do well and thrive in natural environments. Including as many natural or naturally-looking elements such as plants, etc and themes (photo wallpapers with nature) will enhance the biophilia effect in the new office.
Kaplan & Kaplan preference model (from environmental psychology) Kaplan and Kaplan’s preference model (1989) describes four basic preference factors for any space i.e. coherence, legibility, complexity and mystery.
Fractality Recursive and embedded decorative design elements can enhance fractality of the place. Our bodies have fractal patterns so we feel better in fractal environments ie nature. Biophilia or natural elements are good examples of utilisation of fractality. A fractal is a mathematical set that usually displays self-similar patterns (Benoît Mandelbrot,1975). The concept of fractal extends beyond self-similarity and can include detailed patterns repeating themselves and is a good measure of the complexity of any environment.
Wabi Sabi Wabi Sabi is a Japanese concept of seeing beauty in imperfection and a good reminder that physical things age and if they’re allowed to age gracefully, they can make the place look more inviting, welcoming and relaxing and add an important longevity and legacy aspect to the feel of the space. Embrace imperfections of any workspace by reframing them as wabi-sabi.
Electro-smog and sick building syndrome Feng shui recognises sick building syndrome (SBS) and electromagnetic pollution, including dirty electricity as environmental stressors that affect performance and wellness of employees.
The first and last impressions The first and last impressions are very important aspects of a positive experience of any environment. Shapes, flooring patterns, colours, images, plants, wayfinding are all integral part of the gestalt of the place and should be carefully examined from many perspectives so there are no offending or stress-inducing elements which can compromise the overall intention for the entrance, as well as are congruent with the values of the company.
Spirituality and wellness There are over 3300 research papers on the health benefits of spirituality. Different aspects of feng shui address spirituality. Read more about spiritual feng shui
Design Good design is good feng shui and vice versa.
Feng shui glossary terms / dictionary
The Chinese word for unseen ‘poison arrow’ or ‘cutting chi’ which usually is a corner of a building or anything that is pointy.
Visiting yearly stars to each of the eight palaces.
A term used in feng shui to describe anything that is favourable, positive, lucky, fortunate or beneficial. According to feng shui, there are also auspicious and inauspicious numbers. For example, number 8 is considered auspicious and number 4 is considered inauspicious. Read below about lucky numbers
The ba-gua chart is an eight-sided grid map or matrix that shows you the compass directions with further information about each direction including elements, celestial animals, colour, number and characteristics. More on bagua
A long, straight bamboo flute and musical instrument used as a remedy in feng shui. This flute’s base includes the bamboo’s joint which is bigger than the remaining joints, allowing it to act as a support to actively lift, moderate or raise chi.
Ba zi – Ba Zhai – Eight Mansions, or East-West school
The most popular method of defining and adjusting the ch’i in compass school of feng shui. First, sitting and facing directions of a building is determined. Then the four most favourable and four inauspicious divisions for the area are calculated, to determine their specific influences of the ch’i.
Ba Zhai Pai
Eight house school of knowledge based on a house trigram.
From the German translation as building biology which is a discipline of how buildings can affect peoples’ lives and their living environment.
The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized the hypothesis in his book, Biophilia (1984).
He defines biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life” More on biophilia
B.H.S. – The Black Hat Sect
A Western school of feng shui brought to the United States by Master Lin Yun in the early 1980s and popularised by Sarah Rossbach. One key innovation is that the door location is used to find the bagua directions and orientations.
Beginning of spring
The first of the twenty-four seasons which usually begins around February 4th or 5th. Determining the beginning of spring is essential in the calculation of I Ching divination procedures.
A ‘bright hall’ is the open space in front of a building or house that has the potential or already holds lucky feng shui forces.
The four major compass directions which are North, South, East and West.
Calming heart mantra
A mantra that is chanted to calm personal ch’i when upset, angry or mentally unclear.
The four mythical animals of a green dragon, white tiger, black tortoise/turtle, and the red phoenix. Each animal represents a different earth quality or energy. The four celestial animals can also be recognised in land formations.
Ch’i / chi / qi
Ch’i is an ambient and radiant life force energy that permeates the universe and all of nature. In physics, it is simply charge. The purpose of feng shui is to identify and locate favourable chi to help you use and take advantage of it. Feng shui also helps you to identify and remedy negative qi. More on chi/qi/ch’i
Doors that collide together when opened.
The Chinese almanac is a yearly publication that is used widely in China for the selection of auspicious and inauspicious dates for all types of activities.
Classical feng shui
Classical feng shui refers to the initial form of feng shui originated 4,000 years ago. Since then there are many schools of feng shui, classical and modern or contemporary.
Commanding or power position
The best form school location for the interior placement of a client’s most important furniture, such as the oven, the bed and the desk. This position is generally farthest from but facing the door, whilst having one’s back to a solid wall. This position is considered the safest and most dominant, providing the widest view of the room with the ability to see the door without being directly in line with it.
There are two main classical schools of feng shui. The compass school uses the person’s date of birth and a compass to determine the best locations, dwelling places and business premises for people to live and work in. The second classical feng shui school is a form school.
Cure or feng shui remedy
Any kind of object, action or ritual, used by a feng shui consultant or individual to balance, harmonise, optimise, moderate or alter negative, harmful, or stagnant and debilitating energies or influences.
Cutting Ch’i / Ki/Qi, sha Ch’i or poison arrows
A term that refers to sharp, antagonistic corners or objects, both indoors and out, that can cause harsh, destructive or unsettling energy.
Daoism / Taoism
One of the major religions in Asia. Although Daoism is not a religion but rather a way of life, Buddhism and Hinduism evolved out of Daoism. Daoism professes non-belief in anything whilst accept all things” and is mainly based on the study of the natural order of life.
Chinese gods, the most popular being Fu; Lu; Shou. Representing health, wealth and long life. Also known as the three lucky gods.
Directions are part of compass feng shui school. A direction is where the energy influence or energy is coming from and it is based on the compass directions. Different directions have different qualities of energies.
The compass direction of the main door of a building and usually the most used door.
A dragon den is a mountain ranges spot of land where the formation of the landscape allows the caring natural forces of the dragon to focus and is a good site for houses and graves, bringing prosperity to the people living there.
This term is used to describe channels of energy running through the earth.
One of the five feng shui elements. In the luo shu or magic square, the earth element can be located in the Northeast with the number 8, the Southwest with the number 2 and in the centre of the ba gua chart represented by the number 5. Earth colours are natural earth-tones and hues yellow, tan, beige, brown. Its shape is flat, square or rectangular. Earth is at the centre of the eight trigrams in the luo shu square and the ba gua chart and represents grounding, yin-yang and the moment of tranquillity.
Feng shui has three main elements: Heaven Ch’i (this top-down influence includes the effect of the seasons, time, astrology, etc), Man Chi (the effect of other people) and Earth Ch’i. Earth Ch’i is a huge subject and includes the effect of the earth on people living at a certain location.
This is a method of feng shui relating to directions and locations for an individual, based on his or her birthday. Locations are personal and different for each person. 8 Mansions, apply to the 8 directions of the compass. The underlying concept is that the energy of each direction holds a different experience and influence for us.
In symbolic feng shui, this phrase is used to describe the 8 life situations (such as career, family, love, etc.) used in many modern schools of feng shui, especially used with the bagua matrix.
Electro-smog or electromagnetic pollution
A man-made radiation that can have negative effects on humans.
An element illustrates a specific quality of ch’i and is a fundamental aspect or principle of feng shui. There are five elements: water, wood, fire, earth and metal. More on five elements
Energy is the unseen force that makes up the universe. The purpose of feng shui is to utilise different energies to harmonise and optimise work or personal environments. More on energy
Feng shui is a holistic, multidisciplinary domain that works in partnership with the person, their families and makes a holistic, person-centred and systematic assessment of environmental or physical, emotional, mental or psychological, social, cultural and spiritual or virtual needs, to develop a comprehensive plan to optimise and harmonise their workplace and home environments.
Feng shui consultant or practitioner
A trained professional having studied and mastered the principles and practices of feng shui. The modern feng shui consultant is schooled in a variety of methods and is recognised as a competent practitioner or certified by a professional body such as The Feng Shui Society.
The oven door.
Five aspects of destiny
Feng shui, karma, luck, fate and good work. The Chinese believe these aspects of life are what influence the fortune of individuals (not necessarily in that order).
One of the key feng shui principles is that everything in the universe, including human beings, is composed of five basic elements which are water, wood/tree, fire, earth and metal. These elements are related to one another by their interactions with each other. There is a cycle of regeneration where each supports the other and a cycle of destruction or control where each destroys or control the other.
Rules for flying the stars astrology in either the forward or backward sequence.
Flourishing is when happiness leaks out of you and infects those around you. In similar fashion, when feng shui of your home makes people welcome, relaxed, happy, warm and energised.
A specialised schools of feng shui, flying star includes both time and space. It identifies the foremost influence in a particular space at a particular time – and it’s based on the time you were born or moved into that space,
When selecting a site to build a new house, or attempting to find a good location to move to, it pays to take note of the landscape surrounding the property.
In rural locations this will be in the form of hills and watercourses; and in urban areas, the surrounding buildings and roads. Ancient Chinese texts determine suitable sites by looking at the landscape to the rear, on either side and in front of a property.
Each of these positions is given a name which describes the ideal configuration of hills (or buildings) which surround it. They are known as the Green Dragon, the White Tiger, the Black Tortoise and the Red Phoenix.
The names are taken from the Chinese view of the sky, which divides astronomically into four large constellations – the Green Dragon to the East, the White Tiger to the West, the Black Tortoise to the North and the Red Phoenix to the South.
When applying the animal positions to a home other than one facing due south, ignore the compass positions. When standing in front of a property, locate the Tortoise to the rear, the Tiger on the left, the Dragon on the right and the Phoenix in front.
In an ideal site, there will be a tall hill behind the property offering it support. On either side of it, there will be two hills, slightly overlapping, with the Dragon side being slightly larger than the Tiger. This configuration is known as “Dragon and Tiger in an embrace”.
To the front, perhaps some distance away, will be a small hill, possibly defining the boundary of the land. In an urban area, surrounding buildings, trees or fences marking plot boundaries serve as the animals.
To the rear, the animals offer support – from prevailing winds, or a neighbouring enemy tribe. An open space to the front of the property enables a farmer to grow crops on dry land watered by a river fed by Water channels from the mountains.
A famous Sung Dynasty painter, Kuo Hsi, suggested that “Watercourse are the arteries of a mountain; grass and trees its hair, mist and haze its complexion.”
Experts will trace the Dragon in the hill formations and identify its shape and energy pulses, which determine where to build.
To cut or pierce a Dragon’s veins is considered to bring bad luck, as the British discovered when they first attempted to build roads and erect a telegraphic pole in Hong Kong.
Practically, redirecting and damming rivers causes environmental damage. In urban areas, surrounding buildings offer protection, while a pleasant open area in front of a building, enables the building to breathe and energy to gather.
Properties can be affected where roads – the modern equivalent of Dragon veins – are blocked or where traffic is diverted. There is always a logical explanation.
One of the three deities Fu represents happiness and life accomplishments.
An auspicious direction, helping to create harmony, clear thinking and peace, according to the Ba zi or Four Pillars of Destiny.
Gardens have been a prominent feature of Chinese life for at least 3,000 years. A major principle used in creating a traditional Chinese garden was that it should harmonise with nature. So designers placed great importance on preserving and enhancing natural surroundings, blending together man-created features with the dominant natural scenery.
The ancient Emperor’s palaces had vast gardens that resembled natural parks in which many kinds of animals and birds were raised. According to ancient records, the famous fourth-century Jingu Garden had beautiful landscapes with clear flowing water, a fish pond, and luxuriant foliage plants including fruit trees, pines, bamboos and medicinal herbs.
By the seventh century, Chinese garden designers began to utilise the scenic beauty of hills, trees and streams to create the Imperial gardens, later introducing terraces, walls, rocks and watercourses, pools and vegetable gardens. Small gardens and courtyards appear to have emerged during the seventeenth century, designed with an artistic, literary style that gave people the feeling they were experiencing a large garden in miniature.
Garden Feng Shui principles in modern times continue to focus on the use of various organic elements and the blending of different foliage textures, shapes and colours so that a harmonious balance of yin and yang is achieved. Care is taken to respect the natural contours and orientation of the garden. So its design will retain details that reflect its original environment. Water features, pathways, borders and boundaries are likely to be curved and flowing, which helps chi to move gently and creates a more harmonious and peaceful space.
To maintain a subtle sense of place in the Feng Shui garden, man-made structures tend to be fashioned using local materials, whilst plants would be chosen for their affinity with the local soil and climate. The different areas of light and shade, also dry and damp spots are all approached sensitively in order to harness the best energy potential of every part of the plot. Where Feng Shui is applied to the exterior surroundings of a property, whether it is your own home or a workplace, energy becomes enhanced within the building as a result, making it a more desirable place for its occupants.
A general term to describe geological abnormalities that can affect health and performance. More on geopathic stress
Also called ram, sheep is one of the twelve animal signs in Chinese zodiac astrology. To find out your animal check Chinese zodiac astrology chart for all years
Great cycle of 180 years
Comprised of nine cycles of twenty years each. This present great cycle began in 1864. The current twenty-year cycle began in 2004. At present we are in cycle eight (2004-2023).
Grand duke of the year
The Chinese animal sign of a year actually represents a direction where the planet Jupiter is located. The direction is called the grand duke of the year and has severe feng shui implications. It is usually suggested that the earth should not be disturb in the direction of the grand duke.
A gua is one sector, or direction, on the bagua map or matrix. There are nine gua sectors.
Hara hachi bu
Hara hachi bu is the Confucious teaching that instructs people to eat until they are 80% full.
Heavenly stems and earthly branches
A pair of Chinese characters taken from the Chinese almanac forms a pillar of destiny. The two characters are written vertically one on top of the other. The character on top is called – heavenly stem – and the one below is called – earthly branch.
Trigram defined by the sitting direction of a building or site.
The Hawthorne effect (also referred to as the observer effect)
In 1920s, Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric telephone equipment factory in Illinois asked Harvard researchers to discover what changes in the environment, such as adjusting the lighting or temperature, could affect the productivity and efficiency. No matter how light or dark the workplace was, employees continued to work laboriously and the only aspect that seemed to make a difference was the quantity of attention that workers got from the experimenters. Elton Mayo, an Australian psychologist, called this “human aspects” where work factors seemed to be more important than environmental factors.
One of the twelve animal signs in Chinese zodiac astrology and corresponding to the years, 199o, 2002. To find out your animal check Chinese zodiac astrology chart for all years
The Danish concept of hygge, refers to a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment and well-being and is fully in harmony with feng shui ethos.
The Book of Changes or a Chinese method of divination.
In feng shui, it suggests unfavourable, undesirable, harmful influences and/or unsuccessful results.
The four compass directions that are situated between the cardinal points: Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest.
It is sometimes used as part of feng shui remedies or rituals. It is an elaborate tissue-thin rice paper that feels handmade, often contains imperfections and inconsistencies, and feels rough. Some Joss papers are blessed in Buddhist temples and are used in Asia in rituals.
Jan Cisek Feng shui consultant and environmental psychologist with 30 years expertise working in London and worldwide. More about Jan Cisek
The ancient name for feng shui.
An ancient Japanese system, which has similar aims to feng shui; means simplicity and minimalism; kanso is one of the eight zen concepts alongside fukinsei (asymmetry), seijaku (silence), shizen (naturalness), koko (austerity), datsuzoku (freedom from worldly attachments), yugen (subtle profundity), danshari (decluttering) and wabi-sabi (beauty in imperfection). More about kanso
The Japanese word for Ch’i or qi.
Kua is the term that relates to you and your direction when studying the eight mansions. Knowing your kua number will enable you to classify your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the type of incidents you are likely to encounter, relating to each direction. Extra information is also revealed when you discover your kua number.
Lagom The Swedish word for ‘sufficiency’. Feng shui has ecology and ergonomics built into it and living in harmony with nature is the key aspect. Part of happiness is knowing when you have enough.
The Chinese compass for measuring feng shui direction and influences.
An aspect of life and one’s characteristic or skill that helps one to be in the flow, attracting opportunities and to manifest one’s dreams and goals. Feng shui aspires to bring more luck by optimising one’s work and home environments. More on how to boost your luck
In Chinese tradition, 18 pronounced 十八 (shí bā) is considered a lucky number due to similarity with 實發 (shì fā) ‘definitely get rich’, ‘to get rich for sure’, “going to prosper”.
Cashing on the lucky 18, Dundas Castle near Edinburgh has launched lucky 18 wedding packages aimed at the Chinese wedding market. The modern part of the castle was built in 1818 and will celebrate its 200th birthday in 2018. 12 lucky couples who book their wedding on the 18th of each month can consider themselves lucky (with a complimentary Scottish piper to give the day a Scottish feel).
The number 8 is considered auspicious (high-value lots are often assigned the number 8 in auction catalogues in the hope of attracting Chinese bidders because number 8 is considered lucky) and number 4 is considered inauspicious
The fortune a person encounters in his life is represented by a set of pillars called the luck pillars. The luck pillars are derived from a person’s four pillars of destiny and they can show him his passage through life. Each luck pillar contains two Chinese characters and manages ten years of a person’s life.
A magic square consists of a series of numbers arranged in a grid where all the horizontal, vertical and diagonal rows add up to the same total. It was the magic square found in the markings of a tortoise that marked the birth of feng shui, the I Ching, Chinese Astrology and Chinese numerology.
4 9 2
3 5 7
8 1 6
Morphic resonance, morphic fields
In short, morphic resonance is Rupert Sheldrake’s hypothesis that suggests that living systems have sets of collective memory or habits if you like. Morphic fields or similar forms (morphs, or ‘fields of information’) reverberate and exchange information within a universal life force. Morphic resonance is a process whereby self-organising systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems. In its most general formulation, morphic resonance means that the so-called laws of nature are more like habits. Feng shui rituals have morphic fields.
Mountain star and water star
The pair of numbers found in each square of a nine-square chart. The mountain star is associated with health; the water star is associated with wealth.
Neutralise or harmonise
It is opposing to the laws of nature to actually change what is, but a consultant can modify an energy or influence. Classical Feng Shui deals with all the influences affecting you, including the ones that create problems. Once these influences are located and identified, the goal is to calm, weaken, modify, or neutralize the influence so that it causes no harm.
The study of numbers and the manner in which they reflect certain personalities and character traits.
Is one of the four major compass directions and representing the animal turtle or tortoise; season: winter; colour: black/blue; shape: flat/square; element: water.
In feng shui astrology, everyone has a number that relates to their birth-date. That number will relate to their personal characteristics, their favourable and unfavourable directions and much more.
Another name for the bagua matrix used by the Black Hat Sect that originated in the USA.
Pareto principle (80/20 rule)
Pareto principle (sometimes called 80/20 rule) states that 20% of effort produces 80% of results. In feng shui, if 80% of your home or workplace is working then it’s a very good start.
Piercing heart doors
A metaphoric description of three or more doors in a row.
One of the twelve animal signs – Corresponding to the years, 1995, 2007 for example.
Placebo is a medical device for self-healing. More on placebo in feng shui
A position is a place where you are located in a space, area or room, not to be confused with direction.
A ritual is a sequence of actions involving thoughts, words, gestures and objects, as well as activities in order to achieve something. In essence, feng shui interventions are rituals. Feng shui = intention + energy + ritual. Certain feng shui rituals are considered the least important parts of the feng shui process. Rituals should be servents of your intention and energy.
A Chinese word which means exactly the same as chi or energy.
365 days, the time of a complete revolution of the earth around the sun.
Is one of the four major compass directions that represent the animal phoenix/bird; season summer; colour red; shape: pointed and element fire. It also symbolically represents recognition, success, fame and spiritual domain.
A three-lined symbol from I Ching.
A set of practices, rituals and ceremonies that help to clear negative energies and bring in positive energies.
Three types of luck
The Chinese believe we can have three types of luck: heaven luck, earth luck and man luck. Heaven luck is what we are born with or into. Man luck is down to our intentions, behaviours and actions which in our control. Learn how to boost your luck. Earth luck is created by use of feng shui.
Tien and ti
Heaven and earth.
An interior doorway or door frame without a door.
Vastu / Vastu Shastra / Vaastu Shastra
A Hindu system, which shares similar aims with feng shui. There are some similarities and many differences between vastu and feng shui. Read more about vastu shastra
The water star represented as a number denotes the quality of Ch’i that symbolises the front and a facing direction of a structure in flying stars astrology. The water star is associated with the energies of finance, prosperity and wealth.
Is one of the four major compass directions which represents the animal: tiger; season: autumn: colour: white/silver: shape: circle/round and element: metal. Symbolically it also represents creativity, new projects and offspring.
One of many feng shui remedies for moderating the flow of energy/chi.
The 5 elements – fire, wood, earth, metal and water.
The five elements of fire, earth, metal, water and wood.
The active side of the yin/yang concept. Yang is symbolized by activity, movement, strength, light, extrovert, paternal and the masculine.
Yang house feng shui / yang feng shui
In the classical feng shui, it refers to homes and houses for the living.
The ‘passive’ side of the yin/yang. Yin coolness, stillness, potential energy, self-conscious, introvert, cautious, maternal and the feminine. Yin energy should be balanced by an appropriate presence of yang energy.
Yin house feng shui/ yin feng shui
In the classical feng shui is a study of graves and burial sites.
Any single line of a bigram, trigram or hexagram.
80/20 Rule (Pareto principle)
80/20 rule (sometimes called Pareto principle) states that 20% of effort produces 80% of results. In feng shui, if 80% of your home or workplace is working then it’s a very good start.
According to Stephen Covey 10% of life is going to happen to you no matter what: things happen. The system will go down, or there won’t be wifi or the printer will be jammed. The rest, 90% which determines if you’re going to have a good or bad life – depends on how you respond to that 10% of things not working well. In your home or workplace, there will be things not working well but these are usually tiny little details in the scheme of things. Don’t allow them to magnify and get upset, angry, etc. Remember and focus on things that work and what you have control over.