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 Tamkeen Manasia



What is Feng Shui?


Feng Shui, literally meaning wind-water, is an ancient Chinese philosophy developed over 8,000 years ago about the relationship between humans and their environment and the effects of that connection on a person’s overall well being.  It allows people to work efficiently, comfortably, and successfully by following the patterns of nature, i.e. living in harmony with one’s natural surroundings instead of disrupting it.  Feng Shui calls on individuals to tune into themselves and their environment which includes interior and exterior space, light, sounds, smells, materials, furniture arrangement and how all of this affects one’s mental and physical energy. 

Energy or Qi is flowing continuously all around whether one is aware of it or not.  It is not visible and its presence is known through its affects on physical surroundings or landscape.  Qi must flow eternally without interruptions because it affects all things in the environment and through that, one’s health.  Qi is organized into five basic elements: metal, fire, water, wood, and earth.  These elements of Qi are not static physical elements but rather, they have direction and unique wavelengths.  Qi is cyclical in that energy changes from one phase to another and is not created or destroyed.   

In order to apply the philosophies of Feng Shui to one’s working and living space, one must consult a Feng Shui consultant or enroll in one of the many courses offered across cities in the country.  Yes one must learn this art from a master for a nominal fee.  Although the art of Feng Shui is not a new fad, the sudden mass appeal to it in the West is.  Unlike other promoters of get-healthy-quick programs, these Feng Shui promoters do not pose to be doctors but rather experts of Feng Shui from a lineage of Feng Shui masters.  The promoters of Feng Shui on the world-wide-web target multiple areas of the western population.  Their first target are people who are not satisfied with the how healthy, happy, or wealthy they are and seek to improve those aspects of their lives instantly.  Secondly they target those adventure seekers who don’t want to be left behind in the new trends of society. 


How is it supposed to affect your health?


            Feng Shui, because it is concerned with the flow of energy in one’s space, makes your environment healthy.  One’s physical health is a part of their environment.  So if one’ environment or space is not healthy, the individual is not healthy.  This problem deals directly with pollutants in the environment.  No not those radioactive pollutants you read about in newspapers or magazines.  These “pollutants” are much more broadly defined and include anything from extra noise in the environment (like the hum of a refrigerator) to undesirable Qi from people to clutter in general.  One especially outrageous claim from a Feng Shui consultant pointed towards the necessity of reducing or eliminating electromagnetic fields in the home or office environment due to the detrimental effects of it on health. The solution is to strike an optimum balance between the five elements within any surrounding.








How are the elements of Qi in Practice?


            Wood is the first element because it is said to be the beginning of new life.  In order to incorporate this element into a room, one should add a bushy plant because it retains a lot of live Qi.  The plant helps to maintain good air quality as well.

            Fire is the next element and it is said to be the masculine counterpart of the other elements.  The Fire element can be incorporated into any room by introducing candles or the color red.  This energy is said to affect health and relationships.

            Earth is an element that can be found in soil, stone and clay.  It is incorporate into a room by adding any of the above mentioned to a room.

            Metal is the next element and it can be found in any naturally occurring metal.  Incorporating this into a room is really easy and all one has sharp edges. 

            Water is a key element because our planet is mostly made up of water and so are we.  To incorporate it, one can add a small flowing fountain to make sure the water is not stagnant or by the use of the color blue.  This energy is related to sex and money.  Having a healthy flow of this is said to reduce adultery and bring in wealth.

            One last essential component to healthy, flowing Qi is to make sure to remove clutter and maintain cleanliness within the space.


What does the Scientific Literature say about all of this?

            Although many of the supposed ways of eliminating bad Qi and redirecting good Qi are not directly mentioned in scientific publications, some of the vehicles of incorporation of the elements of Qi are mentioned.  In other words there are no studies comparing homes of Feng Shui practicing inhabitants in the areas of physical and mental health, happiness, and wealth, to inhabitants of homes without Feng Shui.  Such a task would be nearly impossible to do because there would too many variables to control.  For instances, it would nearly impossible to find two identical families with the same number of children, economic status, history of mental or physical illness, daily occupation and so on.  There are however studies on the effects of plants in a home environment, correlation between color and mood of individuals, effects of electromagnetic fields and related health problems of people, and the effects of cleanliness and clutter in surroundings on the health of the individuals living there.



            A study conducted by O’Reilly and Handforth titled “Occupational therapy with “refractory” patients” on a selected group of 14 mentally patients looked at the effects of gardening or taking care of plants as a method of occupational therapy (O’Reilly, Handforth, 1955).  In the study, the subjects were given the opportunity to care for a garden in the summer and houseplants in the winter.  Only one subject failed to show a striking degree of improvement personally and interpersonally after taking care of plants.  This study shows the beneficial effects of planting on individuals.  Although the subjects in this study were mentally ill, the results could also be applied to the general population in showing that caring for plants is beneficial.   With this said, there was no literature on the good circulation of Qi the environments of the subjects so that claim of Feng Shui is unfounded.


 The next element for which any studies could be found was the element of fire with its incorporation of the color red in a room to successfully involve Yang elements in a room.  A study conducted by Nancy Stone (Stone, 2001) titled “Designing effective study environments” on the effects of interior design of study environments examined the impact of an open-plan or private environment and various colors on the student’s mood, satisfaction, motivation and performance.  The study setting and study material were manipulated in a stimulated study environment to determine their effects on 124 adult students.  Results show that students that had more negative mood when doing a reading task and slightly higher positive mood when studying in a blue carrel compared to a red carrel in a open-plan setting.  Satisfaction with performance and motivation were not affected.  Performance was slight lower on the reading task in the red environment.  The study actually suggests that the color red appears to a have negative impact on the mood the people in the room that contradicts the Feng Shui theory of the fire element’s improvement of personal health and happiness.  




        The next claim of Feng Shui’s effects on health I investigated was effects of electromagnetic fields on sleep in healthy humans.  According to the claim, found in, the presence of electromagnetic fields (EMF) from various electrical sources and appliances such as refrigerators, computers, and alarm clocks should be reduced or eliminated because they interfere sleep and reduce melatonin levels.  In a study conducted by Mann and Roeschke titled “Effects of pulsed high-frequency electromagnetic fields on human sleep”, it was found that a hypnotic effect with a shortening of sleep onset latency, a rapid eye movement (REM) suppressive effect with reduction of duration and percentage of REM sleep was found when there was a high presence of EMF (Mann, Roeschke 1996).  The study however was not conclusive about the health hazards associated with pulsed high frequency EMF of human sleep.  This again finds the claim of Feng Shui’s elimination of pollutants such as EMF to result in healthier individuals to be based more on heightened perceived risk of health hazards then anything else.






     The only element of Feng Shui I found to extremely important to individual’s health was one about the importance of cleanliness and elimination of clutter in the home environment.  A study conducted by Steketee, Frost and Kim titled “Hoarding by the Elderly” looked at the effects of having extensive clutter in the home environments of 62 elderly subjects (Skeketee, Frost, Kim, 2001).  The study showed that most elderly hoarders were unmarried women who lived alone.  The extensive clutter was associated with significant impairment, interfering with basic hygiene, and posing a serious physical threat for many elderly subjects.  The subjects were rarely insightful about their collecting and often resisted change, rendering interventions ineffective.  Never-married status was associated with more severe hoarding and greater impairment and possibly with worse outcomes of intervention efforts.  The study was conducted via structure telephone interviews and elderly services providers to investigate hoarding behaviors in relation to functional impairment, cognitive deficits, and physical and psychological conditions. 



What does all of this really mean for Feng Shui’s claim on improvement in overall health of an individual?


            It means that Feng Shui, although not harmful to the health of individuals, is also not particularly helpful.  The placement of various items around in a room to help channel Qi properly has no known effects on health.  The marketers of Feng Shui in households, like fortune telling gypsies, will tell you that Feng Shui only works if you really believe it will work.  Most of the anecdotes of material and emotional wealth cited in the websites of Feng Shui are mere coincidences that happened around the same time as the Feng Shui instructor became involved.  It seems highly unlikely that designing a home properly will prevent a spouse from cheating, mental health of teenage children to improve, and family affairs to magically improve as is claimed in









O’Reily, P.O., Handforth, J.R. (1955). Occupational therapy with “refractory” patients. American Journal of Psychiatry (p. 763-766). US: American Psychiatric Assn.


Stone, Nancy (2001).  Designing effective study environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, Vol 21(2) (p. 179-190). United Kingdom: Academic Press Ltd.


Mann, K., Roeschke, J. (1996). Effects of pulsed high-frequency electromagnetic fields on human sleep. Neuropsychobiology, Vol 33 (p.41-47). Switzerland: S Karger AG.


Steketee, G., Frost, R.O., Kim, H.J. (2001). Hoarding by elderly people. Health and Social Work Vol 26(3) (p. 176-184). US: National Assn of Social Workers.




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