Feng Shui and Health

Most people think of feng shui as a Chinese inspired way to make your home look nice, increase your money luck, or attract a romantic partner. They don’t usually associate it with health care. But to a classically trained feng shui practitioner, there is a direct connection between the feng shui of a home and the health of its occupants.

This view is so accepted in Chinese culture that traditionally, feng shui practitioners often worked with Chinese doctors. If a patient didn’t respond to treatment, the cause could often be found in the home. Once the feng shui was adjusted, healing could get back on track.

In the Chinese view, we live in a universe that is permeated with and activated by a shared vital breath (often translated as qi). In such a universe, everything in the natural world affects everything else. It is impossible to live in isolation from the forces around us. This principle is called “gan ying” or mutual influence, and it is fundamental to feng shui. It is why adjusting your front gate, clearing a cluttered room, or changing the position of your bed can affect your health. The vital breath, or qi, that moves the leaves on the trees in your yard, also moves through you. Regulating one, helps to regulate the other.

The feng shui practitioner has a variety of methods for diagnosing and regulating qi flow through the home. For instance, fresh vital qi from the landscape must be able to find its way into your home, and once inside, should circulate gently so the occupants are nourished and revitalized. This is accomplished through the correct arrangement of pathways, landscaping, and furniture. If you live in an urban environment, or a place stripped of its connection to nature, the feng shui practitioner must be creative in finding ways to support good qi flow. In this situation, ancient methods for the analysis of mountains and rivers are adapted to work with buildings and roads.

It’s also important to protect the home from aggressive qi that rushes too strongly at the house, which can make the occupants irritable and exhausted. One example of this is a house situated at the end of a busy road, such that cars and headlights are always aiming at it.

In addition to the many considerations that affect flow and containment of qi, the practitioner might also factor in the personal astrology of the occupants. Each person has a set of 4 compass directions that are supportive of their qi, and 4 that are more draining for them. These are based on Chinese astrology. For someone who has health challenges it is important to make sure they are sleeping and spending most of their time in one of their supportive sectors.

In modern society we all know that poor air quality, electromagnetic pollution, chemicals, molds, excessive noise, and lack of access to nature all have a negative effect on our health. In ancient China there were different environmental concerns to be sure, not to mention the constant threat of invasion. But the need to maintain a harmonious relationship to our environment is as important now as it was in the Song Dynasty. Today’s feng shui practitioner, drawing on ancient methods combined with modern sensibilities, is perhaps more important than ever to our health and well being.

So next time you feel stymied by a health issue, or just feel less than your best self, and all your remedies don’t seem to work, consider calling a feng shui practitoner to your home. It might be just what the doctor ordered.

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Your Front Door–Mouth of the Qi

The front door of your home can have a powerful influence on your well being and happiness. In Feng Shui we give this feature of a house its own special category. Called the “Ming Tang,” or bright hall, your front door and entrance form the mouth of qi for your home, mediating that crucial threshold between the outside world and your private world. Your cumulative experience of coming and going over time can have powerful psychological and emotional effects on you, so it’s important to give careful attention to your home’s Ming Tang.

These days many people come and go solely through their garage, relegating the actual front door to a mere decoration. Whether this is a serious problem or not depends on the compass analysis of your house. In some cases, when it’s important to activate the front door sector, I suggest that the occupants park in the garage and walk around to use the front door. In other cases, the garage entry might actually be a better choice. But in all cases, it’s important to make the place of entry one of ease and welcome.

So what makes a good Ming Tang? Over the years I’ve developed a check list for the minimum requirements, along with a vision for the ideal. I’ll give you both, and like most of us, your own Ming Tang will probably fall somewhere in between these. At a minimum, your entryway should be clean, uncluttered, and in good repair.  A freshly painted door is a plus. There’s no requirement for the door to be red, as some feng shui enthusiasts think. The color is really a matter of harmonizing with the environment and the character of the house, along with personal taste. (Sometimes, a compass analysis of the house will uncover an elemental imbalance in the front door sector; in this case, painting the door a particular color can help correct this.)

If you’ve achieved this minimum and want to enhance your Ming Tang even more, here’s the ideal vision. First, we would all love a front porch. The porch should be large enough to accommodate several guests, or even just yourself laden with packages, family dog in tow. And it’s even better if this spacious front porch is covered and protected to shield you from the elements and soften your transition from outside to inside. Your porch should have a waist high shelf conveniently situated near the door so you can set down your groceries while fishing for the keys.

Now, upon successfully transitioning inside (and hopefully this was such a pleasant experience that you’re already feeling pretty cheerful about coming home,) you’re standing in a very pleasant foyer or front hallway. This is a place where you can complete your transition home by dropping keys and packages on the conveniently located hall table, hanging up your coat on the hook that is within easy reach, and sighing happily when you glance, for perhaps the hundredth time, at your favorite photograph or painting that hangs right there where you can see it as you arrive home every day.

And lastly, how nice that your little entryway is separated from the living room by a screen or large potted plant so you have a chance to settle yourself before bursting in on the rest of the family gathered there.

Now, you might think you need a mansion in a very swanky part of town to have such a Ming Tang, and you might feel that since you live in a studio apartment over someone’s garage that this Ming Tang stuff isn’t for you. You’d be wrong. You of all people need to pay special attention to your Ming Tang. Start by going back to the minimum requirements as stated above. Then, here are some simple things anyone can do, no matter how humble your abode, to create the feeling of a gracious (and spacious,) Ming Tang.

Start by getting the most beautiful front door mat you can afford, and keep it clean and swept at all times. This gives you a natural stopping point on your way inside. Then, even if you have no porch or overhang, place a sturdy outdoor bench, stool, or set of shelves next to your door on one side. On the other side place a robust plant (nothing with spiky leaves please,) in a sturdy attractive pot that will act as a sort of “sentinel” and give you a feeling of shelter and protection while you stand and fish for your keys. Now you’ve created a “place,” an alcove or nook with a sense of dimension where before there was only a door in a flat wall.

Next, on the inside, place a nice round rug, a waist high table to drop your keys and set down your packages, and something beautiful to look at to one side as you come in–perhaps a favorite painting or your grandmother’s antique mirror. Now you’ve created the spacious feeling of an entry hall. It might also be possible, even in a very tiny space, to place a shoji screen or indoor plant in such a way as to create the illusion of a separate entrance hall, providing just a little sense of separation and privacy between your front door and the rest of the room.

As I write this, I am sitting in a coffee shop at a small table near the front door. Though this is a very busy and public space, someone thought to put a nice screen of indoor plants–graceful palms and ficus–between the front door and the tables. So in spite of being so close to the door, I feel quite peaceful and undisturbed here at my little table. A great example of a cheap and simple way to work with the Ming Tang.


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The Hearth: Reclaiming the heart of your home

If you’re a human being, you know all about the power of fire. Every one of us had ancestors who gathered around a fire. This cellular memory still lives within us, perhaps only as a faint stirring, but in many as a deep longing for a gathering place in the home, a center of repose and rejuvenation.

For me, this “hearth longing” as I call it, is strong. My Celtic ancestors kept a fire burning in the hearth at all times, 24 hours a day throughout the year. It was “smoored” or covered at night so that the embers stayed alive and could be readily rekindled in the morning. Everything important in the family went on around this central fire–cooking of course, but also storytelling, spinning and weaving, baking, drying clothes and muddy boots, and long periods of staring and musing. Continue reading

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A Window Place

I’ve had a long love affair with windows. As a child I spent endless dreamy hours curled up in the window seat of my second floor bedroom, watching the play of birds and squirrels in the little side garden below, along with the occasional guilty spying on my neighbors, whose patio was easily observable from my secret perch. In winter, my front window often framed a world buried in a foot or more of snow, an unexpected delight and message of possible freedom from the requirement of school that day. This magical vision was always followed by an early morning family gathering around the radio to listen to the list of school closings in our small town; and then the whoops of joy and a mad dash for snow clothes and sledding equipment–my mother calling out her predictable warning that no one would be allowed to leave without breakfast.

All of this is neatly folded into my memory in a file marked “windows.” Continue reading

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What’s all this compass stuff anyway?

When I first heard about Feng Shui I was confused about the different approaches I found. Some people carried this complicated and unreadable instrument called a Lo P’an, and went around calculating numbers and sectors on floor plans. All very mysterious. Others couldn’t tell North from South but had a lot to say about bed placement, mirrors, and keeping your toilet lid closed. Where was the real Feng Shui?

After some years of study I can now tell you the answer is a combination of all of the above, along with a great deal of experience, intuition, and self cultivation.

The Lo P’an people are from what we call the “compass school.” In this style of Feng Shui the actual compass direction that a house faces or sits is used to make various calculations and predictions. Compass school practitioners might also factor in the construction date of a house (this is called Flying Star Feng Shui,) and are thus able to combine the influence of both time and space on a home.

Alternatively, the folks who are mainly concerned with furniture placement and the organization of your space are practicing “form school” feng shui. In this style the emphasis is on the effect of the tangible landscape, both inside and outside, on the flow of energy in a home.

The best results are achieved when information from both approaches is skillfully combined. Here’s an example of how the addition of compass school techniques can reveal crucial information about a house: I was recently involved in helping a client find a new house to rent. She was trying to decide between two places that each had merit and were in the right price range. House A was newer, was very attractive and had a nice fenced in yard for her dog. House B was an old house with charm and character. Both had reasonably good form.

To help her decide between the two I took a compass reading for each house, looked up their construction dates on the internet, and drew a flying star chart for each. I immediately saw that House A was what we call “locked” in the current time period and would remain so for another ten years. This means that it will be very difficult for the residents of this house to make money and prosper during this period. House B on the other hand, had a flying star chart we call “a line of precious pearls.” This means that, providing it also has good form, it will support both wealth and health for its residents. Needless to say, my client passed on House A and signed a lease for House B.

This sort of information can only be determined through the use of advanced compass school methods. So if you have already had your home “feng shui-ed”, but still haven’t seen the results you hoped for, consider bringing in some of the compass school techniques like Flying Star, to get this powerful extra level of information.


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If You’ve Ever Loved a Tree…..

I grew up in a small East Coast town where neighbors kept an eye on all the kids. I rode my bike or roller skated everywhere (without a helmet,) and spent most of every day outside. Most of the time I just wandered around, dropping pebbles into streams, watching the cardinals who had built a nest in our back yard raise their young, and sitting in the comforting limbs of a great Copper Beech tree that presided over our front yard. This tree was my oldest and dearest friend. I told it everything. It listened patiently, generously, without judgement, to all of the tender outpourings of my eight year old heart.

My parents always said I was the “easy child,” the one who never gave them problems. While my older brother raged, acted out, and got into endless trouble, I remained calm. What the adults didn’t know was that I was beset by anxiety, confusion, sadness, and uncertainty. But the tree knew my every thought. And because the tree “got me,” I had an unshakeable faith that things would work out somehow. So in spite of a distant father, a critical mother, and a bullying brother, I grew up happy. I owe this to my tree.

In shamanic cultures all over the world this crucial relationship with trees is recognized and cultivated. In some villages of the Huichol Indians of Mexico, young men and women “wed” a tree for four years before they are considered ready for marriage. In this four year relationship, they pour out all their desires, their longings, their successes and failures, during regular visits to their tree. In this process of working out projections, they mature and are able to come to their human partnerships with a remarkable soulfulness and equanimity.

A few years ago I took a pilgrimage to Cornwall in the southwest of England, land of my ancestors, and rediscovered my Copper Beech. I was not expecting this, indeed hadn’t even thought of that tree for years, since I now live in California where this particular species doesn’t appear. But as I wandered through the ruined abbey of Glastonbury, there it was–enormous, serene, beckoning to me from atop the hill. I walked up to it and, much to my astonishment, burst into great sobs as I rested my head against its ancient trunk. I remembered it. Remembered how it took care of me as a child, listened to me, befriended me.

I spent several hours that day, sitting with my back against the trunk of the Copper Beech. I came home from that encounter having made a pact to help people reconnect with their own souls; restoring the lost connection with nature, and most especially, with trees.

In my shamanic training programs, the practice of listening to the spirits of nature is emphasized. And trees speak so much more slowly than we are used to. It takes patience to sit under a tree for hours, and listen to its wisdom. It takes time to pour out your heart to a tree. But what a world this would be if we could renew this ancient and precious relationship.

Narrye Caldwell’s in-depth eight month shamanic training program starts in November. Go to www.narryecaldwell.com for details. Space is limited, so please apply early if you’re interested.

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Feng Shui and Sound

One of the first things I do on a feng shui consultation is to listen. Too often, we dismiss the importance of sound and focus entirely on how things look. We may admire the lovely entrance, the pleasing colors, and the balanced furniture arrangements. Or on the negative side, we note the clutter in the study, the trashcans too near the entryway, the high voltage wires overhead, or that looming house next door. All of these things are important, of course.  But ambient sound has a powerful effect on human beings. Sound affects our nervous and immune systems profoundly. For a living environment to support health, it must sound right. I know this “sounds” a little weird, but bear with me. Continue reading

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Feng Shui for the Rest of Us

Many people equate Feng Shui with over-priced interior design. Just browse through any Feng Shui book and you’ll likely be regaled with photographs of the most beautiful homes and gardens–the kind of places most of us wouldn’t dare dream about. I have one of these beautiful books on my coffee table right now. Sure, who wouldn’t want a Japanese garden complete with carp pond and tea house? And what about that frequent but impractical Feng Shui solution of moving your stove to a more auspicious sector of the kitchen? If all you do is peruse these books, it would be easy to think that Feng Shui is only for people with money and time on their hands. Well, I’d like to dispel that notion. Continue reading

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I used to have a beautiful meadow behind my house. I rent the house, and my landlord also owned the adjoining meadow with its stand of redwoods. Often, I would sit at my kitchen window and gaze at the meadow. Over a two year period I watched countless deer and other wild creatures wander in and out. One day, I was even graced by the magical appearance of a gray fox. I always knew that the meadow was for sale, but there was a history of permit and zoning problems which I figured (and hoped) would go on indefinitely. Continue reading

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Feng shui tips for getting unstuck and healing depression

Most people think first of therapy, coaching, medication, or maybe even herbs for depression. But did you know that feng shui can help you get unstuck, lift your spirits, and get you moving again? In Chinese medicine depression is seen as a type of stagnant qi (energy).  Since feng shui is all about establishing good energy flow in your home and work environment, it stands to reason that it can powerfully affect your mood. Here are five ways to stimulate the flow of energy in your home, and get your own energy moving. Continue reading

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