What Are the Basic Principles of Feng Shui

Peaceful neutral colored living room and dining room
Anjie Cho / Anjie Cho Architect
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    Wind and Water

    gray toned living room and dining area
    Element5 Digital / Unsplash

    The philosophy of feng shui is a practice looking at our built environments and how to live in harmony with the principles of the natural world. Feng means “wind” and shui translates to “water” in Chinese. This comes from an ancient poem and reflects upon how human life can be ideal if we connect and live in flow with the environment around us.

    In Asian cultures, this is called the Tao, which translates to “the way”. The Tao is the way of nature. Hence, the basic principles of feng shui come from observations of nature. The most important principles are the commanding position, the bagua, and the five elements. 

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    The Commanding Position

    bed commanding position diagram for good feng shui

    We’ll start with the commanding position because it’s the easiest to implement and understand. The commanding position governs the best way to locate yourself and furniture in your spaces for feng shui. It’s most important to apply to the bed, desk, and stove. The bed represents you, the desk is your career, and the stove is your wealth and how you nourish yourself in the world. 

    The basics of the commanding position is that you want to be facing the door without being directly in line with the door. It is most important to be in the commanding position while lying in bed, sitting at your desk, or cooking at the stove. Usually this position is diagonal from the door. Again, you don’t want to be directly in line with the door, however you want to be able to see the door. 

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    The Feng Shui Bagua Map

    Feng shui bagua map with Chinese names

    The bagua is the feng shui energy map that is superimposed on the floor plan of your home. Bagua translates to “eight areas” in Chinese, therefore it consists of eight areas around a center. The areas each relate to different life circumstances, and the center represents overall health and wellness. 

    An easy way to work with the bagua is to identify one to three areas that need the most attention in your life. Then you can use the shape or color of that gua in the corresponding position of your home to activate and work with the energy. We don’t recommend you try to work with all nine areas, or even more than three.

    A summary of each gua area as follows:

    Zhen / Family

    • Meanings:  Family, new beginnings
    • Shape: Columnar, rectangular
    • Colors:  Green, blues, teal
    • Season:  Spring
    • Number:  4
    • Element:  Yang wood

    Xun /Wealth

    • Meanings:  Wealth, abundance, prosperity
    • Shape: Columnar, rectangular
    • Colors:  Purple
    • Season:  Spring
    • Number:  5
    • Element:  Yin wood

    Tai Qi / Health

    • Meanings:  Health, overall wellness, the center
    • Shape: Flat, square
    • Colors:  Brown, orange, yellow
    • Season: Transitions between the seasons
    • Number:  5
    • Element:  Earth

    Qian / Helpful People

    • Meanings:  Helpful people, benefactors, travel
    • Shape: Circular, spherical
    • Colors:  Gray, metallics
    • Season:  Autumn
    • Number:  6
    • Element:  Yang metal

    Dui / Children

    • Meanings:  Children, completion, joy
    • Shape: Circular, spherical
    • Colors:  White, metallics
    • Season:  Autumn
    • Number:  7
    • Element:  Yin metal

    Gen / Knowledge

    • Meanings:  Knowledge, self-cultivation, skillfulness
    • Shape: Flat, square
    • Colors:  Dark blue
    • Season:  Transitions between the seasons
    • Number:  8
    • Element:  Yang earth

    Li / Fame

    • Meanings:  Fame, reputation, passion, visibility
    • Shape: Triangle, pointy
    • Colors:  Red
    • Season:  Summer
    • Number:  9
    • Element:  Fire

    Kan / Career

    • Meanings:  Career, path in life
    • Shape: Wavy, curvy
    • Colors:  Black
    • Season:  Winter
    • Number:  1
    • Element:  Water

    Kun / Partnerships

    • Meanings:  Partnerships, marriage, self-care
    • Shape: Flat, square
    • Colors:  Pink
    • Season:  Transitions between the seasons
    • Number:  2
    • Element:  Yin earth

    Note:  There are dozens of schools of feng shui, and all of them use the bagua map in their feng shui analysis, however each may apply the bagua in different ways. The Western and BTB schools usually lay the bagua so that the Gen (Knowledge), Kan (Career), and Qian (Helpful people) align with the front door of the home. Other schools like Flying Stars and Classical orient the bagua based on other factors such as the energy of the year or the compass or magnetic directions.

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    The Five Elements

    the five elements of earth, metal, water, wood and fire
    Mindful Design Feng Shui School

    The five elements is another system that comes from the Taoist tradition. The five elements are also known as the five phases, and defines all life into categories that are interrelated and interdependent. All five elements create a complete system, and one does not stand alone. They are in a constant dance. In feng shui, we are typically looking to balance the five elements.

    Each of the areas of the bagua (called “guas”) also have a corresponding element. So, you can use this system to enhance a gua by looking at the connected element. For instance, if you want to work on your wealth and abundance, you can activate the Wealth / Xun position of your home by adding something that embodies earth energy, like a large flat square brown toned rug.

    Here are each of the five elements in summary:


    • Qualities:  Grounded, self-care, stable
    • Shape:  Flat, square
    • Colors:  Brown, orange, yellow
    • Season:  Transitions between the seasons
    • Guas: Tai qi, Gen, Kun


    • Qualities:  Efficient, precise, beauty 
    • Shape: Circular, sphereical
    • Colors:  White, metallics
    • Season:  Autumn
    • Guas:  Qian, Dui


    • Qualities:  Downward, flowing, shifting
    • Shape: Wavy, curvy
    • Colors:  Black
    • Season:  Winter
    • Gua:  Kan


    • Qualities:  Expansive, vitality, upward
    • Shape: Columnar, rectangular
    • Colors:  Green, blues
    • Season:  Spring
    • Guas:  Zhen, Xun


    • Qualities: Passion, illuminating, brilliant
    • Shape: Triangle, pointy
    • Colors:  Red
    • Season:  Summer
    • Gua:  Li