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If you’ve heard of feng shui, then you may already know the important role that indoor plants play in this ancient art-form. In this essay we’ll explore more deeply what feng shui has to say about houseplants: which ones are most beneficial, and how best to place them in your home or office to maximize their healing effects.
But first, let’s address a question that’s often asked about feng shui: How is a 6,000-year-old Chinese practice relevant to contemporary science-based Western cultures?
This is a very good question, and the answer lies in understanding, first of all, that the practice of feng shui originated long before the advent of the western scientific traditions. And while its principles and techniques are rooted in empirical investigations (similar to western science), feng shui also incorporates elements of psychology and philosophy—and hence is perhaps best thought of as an art-form.
In this sense, feng shui shares much with architecture: the art and science of creating living-spaces that are not only functional but also—via their intelligent design—supportive of health and harmony.
New findings in the neuroscience of architecture confirm what most of us already know intuitively, namely that our physical and psychological health is intimately linked with our environment:
“Neuroscience teaches us how our biology is linked to our surroundings. The visual pattern responses to the sympathetic and parasympathetic are directly connected to perceptions of art, architecture and environment. Studies have shown that architecture’s aesthetic qualities can affect mood, cognitive functioning, behaviour, mental health and well-being.”
Harmony, balance, beauty and functionality are ideals and guiding principles shared by architecture and feng shui. They both utilize the intelligent, harmonious arrangement of objects within a living space to create aesthetically pleasing and health-enhancing environments.
Feng shui principles are relevant not only to family homes, but also to the design of office buildings, restaurants, hotels and spas. As described in the Boston Hospitality Review, some very well-known hotels have incorporated feng shui principles into their design. And why does this make such good sense?
“Feng shui is used to identify features in individuals’ surroundings that make them feel relaxed and calm or, conversely, uneasy and irritable; basically, the practice suggests that individuals’ relationships with their surroundings is fundamental to their health and well-being. Feng shui is … a set of principles that helps individuals to create a harmonious environment with optimal comfort and aesthetic satisfaction, thus leading to improved health and well-being.”
Like an interior designer, a feng shui consultant pays close attention to shape, colour, texture, and placement of objects. He or she may also incorporate mirrors, water elements such as fountains, and/or indoor plants—all of which can be especially powerful for their harmonizing effects upon a space.
Feng shui originated in ancient China, around 6,000 years ago. It was used originally as a tool for understanding how best to prosper within the elements of the natural world. So, for instance, the farms and villages in ancient China were built within the protection of mountain valleys, where they were shielded from harmful winds and nourished by nearby streams and natural springs.
Appropriately, the word “feng shui” translates into English as “wind” (feng) and “water” (shui)—a direct reference to this original use of feng shui principles. Paying attention to how wind and water (and other elements of the natural world) flow and gather within particular environments allows the construction of homes and cities in ways that optimize the happiness, harmony and prosperity of their residents.
As mentioned above, feng shui principles have much in common with the modern art/science of architecture—as well as urban planning, interior design, and garden design. In each of these art-forms, the question is posed: How best can we create harmony, health and prosperity within a living space, while at the same time maximizing its functionality?
What distinguishes feng shui from these more modern disciplines is, for one, its emphasis on the flow of Qi (氣)—aka “life-force energy”—within a living space. The feng shui of a house or room refers to how air, light, and life-force energy gather and flow, and how a human being feels while residing in that space.
A feng shui evaluation of a living-space asks questions such as: Is the human mind and spirit uplifted or depressed within the context of the room’s structural and aesthetic configurations? And how might a room be rearranged to amplify its peaceful, calming, and inspiring effects?
Conveniently, this life-force energy or Qi (氣) is believed to flow within the human body as well as through external environments. And in fact, Qi is sometimes translated into English as “vitality” or “breath”—the animating force of a human body. In the same way that breathing is the physiological function that most intimately connects a body with its surrounding environment, the flow of Qi mediates the relationship between a human being and his/her environment.
So when feng shui speaks of the harmonious flow of Qi within a living-space, this encapsulates both natural elements (e.g. wind, water, light) as well as the effects they have upon the minds and bodies of the human beings residing there.
One of the basic feng shui principles to bring harmony to your home is to place healthy beautiful indoor plants in particular strategic locations. Let’s look more closely now at why, according to feng shui principles, plants are such an auspicious addition—and how best to choose specific plants for this purpose.
The vitality that healthy plants provide makes them an important element in feng shui arrangements. While ancient Chinese feng shui practitioners didn’t have access to the abundance of scientific evidence showing that indoor plants improve our health, they seem to have come to the same conclusion.
What science tells us is that plants have the ability to improve air quality by transmuting toxins. They also moisturize the air and increase the amount of oxygen. Plants reduce fatigue and enhance the body’s healing process. And the psychological benefits of indoor plants include enhancing mental focus improving mood.
All told, the various physical and psychological benefits of indoor plants make them auspicious—i.e. of great value—from a feng shui point of view.
That said, not all plants are equally beneficial—and a good part of what makes a plant beneficial is its placement within a room or building. So which plants are best? And which locations are most beneficial?
Some of the more intricate Feng shui techniques can make answering these questions a rather elaborate process—which is why one might choose to consult with a feng shui expert. But there are some simple rules of thumb that don’t require formal feng shui training.
In terms of where to place your houseplants, here are some basic guidelines that will serve you well:
* Place or hang plants in your home’s entrance-way. Your front door, foyer or vestibule is the first impression for you and your guests. It’s where you welcome friends into your home, and where life-force energy circulates most freely. Whenever possible, place a plant here.
* Use plants to soften harsh lines. A floor or hanging plant is an excellent remedy for harsh angles or “dead space”—e.g. in the corners of rooms, or along sloped ceilings or overhead beams.
* Use plants in pairs. When decorating your living room, dining room or home office, incorporate a pair of plants (either the same or different species)—to enhance their effectiveness.
* Discard/replace dead or dying plants. This one’s pretty obvious, but still worth mentioning. Plants are beneficial only when they’re vitally healthy. So when a plant—or cut flowers—are drooping or withered, they should be either fully revived or discarded.
* Keep potted herbs in your home. Sage, lavender and other herbs provide purifying effects, and can be used for cooking also.
* Avoid thorny or poisonous plants. According to feng shui principles, spikes and thorns tend to disrupt the flow of life-force energy, so are best avoided. And plants that are poisonous add an element of danger—rather than comfort and ease—to a room, so also are best avoided. Succulents such as the aloe vera or jade plant that have smooth leaves are great.
From a feng shui point of view, houseplants beneficially modulate the flow of life-force energy within a home or office—in ways that support our health and happiness.
Plants bring vibrant healthy energy into our homes, and can make us feel better, both physically and emotionally. They provide a feng shui remedy for harsh lines or stagnant energy—and bring beauty, joy and vitality into a room.
In its deepest sense, feng shui is concerned not only with the architecture and interior design of individual homes—but also with the harmonious flow of energy in the entirety of our shared world. As we bring harmony into our personal spaces, this will in turn ripple out to effect—in small or large ways—our surrounding communities. And in this way we can make a positive contribution to our collective well-being.