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The Role of Feng Shui in Proxemics A Review of the Literature Abigail Price Queens University of Charlotte

Running Head: HOW IS FENG SHUI USED IN PROXEMICS? Abstract This literature review assesses the role of Feng Shui in proxemics and nonverbal

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communication. The purpose is to assess the ways that the philosophy of Feng Shui is applied to the design of a space and how these arrangements affect those that are negotiating the space. The review discusses that Feng Shui does not only have the potential to influence spacial designs, but also lifestyles. The review touches on topics such as Feng Shuis compatibility with Christian beliefs, and the ways in which Feng Shui affects mood, socialization, communication, learning, and healing. The conclusion of this literature review is that if a persons belief system lines up with the philosophy and principles of Feng Shui, the discipline can be used to promote better social interaction, spatial arrangement, and efficiency in a space.

Running Head: HOW IS FENG SHUI USED IN PROXEMICS? The Role of Feng Shui in Proxemics A Review of the Literature

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Feng Shui is an East Asian philosophy that aims to promote harmony and balance in a space. Many things affect balance in a space, such as the position of the door, flowers at the entrance, and having water in the front yard. The goal of Feng Shui is to obtain positive energy flow, or Qi, as it is referred to in the practice. This literature review examines the role of Feng Shui in proxemics by addressing the following topics: 1.How Places Affect People 2. Feng Shui 3. Feng Shui and Chinese Communication 4. Feng Shui and Christianity 5. Feng Shui and Environmental Psychology 6. Feng Shui in Various Settings Addressing these topic will help to explain the ways in which Feng Shui affects people in a space, whether it promotes communication or healing, and its benefits in different settings. No conclusive evidence supports the speculations that Feng Shui has a direct influence on people and their behavior, however, this review will present the ways that Feng Shui is thought to influence spatial design and lifestyle. How Places Affect People An expert in the study of cities and places is Jan Gehl. Gehl has conducted extensive research on what makes cities successful or unsuccessful and what draws people to a place. His research led to the fact that four main points must connect in order for people to interact with a city, making that city successful. In his book entitled, Cities for People, Gehl describes that a city


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must be lively, safe, healthy, and sustainable (Gehl, 2010). A lively city is invitational and encourages the community to enjoy the restaurants, shopping, sidewalks, and all other amenities that a city may have to offer. However, a person would not be drawn to these amenities if the city was not safe. A city must be safe to walk if a person is going to invest time there. A city must also promote a healthy lifestyle to its community with clean air, safe and litter-free pedestrian sidewalks, and accommodations for bikers. Lastly, a successful city is sustainable, meaning that it has room to grow. As the population grows, so must the city (Gehl, 2010). A sustainable city will thrive off of the community, and in turn, the community will thrive off of the city Focusing in, places make up the larger city. A place is generally described as a specific geographic location. Place making is essential when working to draw people to a certain location. In order for a location to turn into a place were people choose to go, it must connect four points: orientation, connection, direction, and animation (La Torre, 2006). Orientation allows people to learn about the places history and what has occurred in that geographic location. Connection is the physical design of the location that reflects its history. Direction is described by certain elements, like signs, that tell the visitor know how to navigate the location. The final element that defines a place is its animation. Animation is the accumulation of experiences inside of the place, or the places uses (La Torre, 2006). The combination of all of these elements creates a place--one where people choose to invest their time because of an attachment they feel to it, memories they have shared with it, or simply because they enjoy it. In the article entitled, How Places Affect People, Gallagher discusses the ways in which a certain place and its characteristics can affect a persons behavior and mood. In the article, characteristics of spaces are illustrated by example. The first theme that Gallagher discusses is that of weather and the importance of adequate light exposure in a space to avoid the risk of


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lethargy, irritability, and more seriously, depression, and a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. The next theme in her article discusses how business settings frequently hinder employees from working to their full potential because the organization of the space creates noise pollutants from desks being placed too closely together. Gallagher goes on to discuss the benefits of nature in regard to rejuvenating the mind, and suggests that companies and hospitals, in particular, provide plants and windows to harness their mood-altering and stabilizing effects in a space. This discussion leads to the topic of Feng Shui and its ability to create harmonizing form and function by capturing the flow of Qi, or the energy that animates earth and all living things (Gallagher, 1999, para. 29). Gallaghers article provides beneficial insight to the philosophy of Feng Shui. By synthesizing important aspects of how a person is affected in certain spaces, whether it is a home or a business setting, the teaching and philosophy of Feng Shui can provide more stable and comfortable living situations and more productive work ethic. The philosophy of Feng Shui incorporates principles from art, geophysics, psychology, and religion that work together to create balance and peace in a space (Gallagher, 1999). By creating this balance, a person is less likely to feel overwhelmingly stressed or uneasy. This article not only describes the ways that a space can influence a persons emotional state, behavior, or productivity, but also captures the essence of Feng Shui and how this philosophy can be applied to designing spaces that promote positive outcomes in a persons well-being. Feng Shui The practice of Feng Shui began around 5000 B.C., but has only recently become popular in Western culture over the last few decades (Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010). The discipline of Feng Shui works to achieve a positive, balanced, and harmonious environment, but evidence


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neither proves nor disproves Feng Shuis ability to yield these results.The practice instead, according to the same article, is based on a set of beliefs and speculations. When translated directly, Feng Shui means wind and water. The choice of wind (corresponding to energy and movement) and water (calm and repose) reflects the dualistic principles of yin and yang, two opposite entities that attract each other and complete themselves (Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010, p. 27). The article explains that a disconnect between these two forces results in environmental discomfort. Balance between the two forces achieves the optimum design of the space. Feng Shui principles are used to design spaces that will not interrupt the positive energy flow of Qi, which will be discussed in greater detail later in the review. Qi travels through soft and curvilinear forms, while its opposite and negative force, Sa Qi, travels through rectilinear or interrupted forms (Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010, p. 27). The shapes that attract Sa Qi are referred to as secret-arrows and the positive energy of Qi morphs into Sa Qi when pointed angles, hills, or irregular objects are present in a space (Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010, p. 27). According to the same article, Sa Qi is also attracted to fast moving areas where there is an excessive amount of energy; the type of space in which Qi is not abundant. The article goes on to recommend that mirrors are used to reflect Qi so that it can flow more slowly and steadily through the space (Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010). Five basic elements depend on each other to create harmony in a space. In the absence of one of these elements, the space will not be as balanced, comfortable, or productive. These elements include wood, fire, earth, metal, and water (Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010). The placement of these elements in the space is also essential in following the practice of Feng Shui. Some elements, for example, must be placed at the entrance of a space, whereas others of the


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elements must be placed throughout the space, and others must be placed at the exit of the space. The following table was designed by the authors of Feng Shui and Environmental Psychology: A Critical Comparison to describe when and where the five elements of Feng Shui should be used in a space.
Wood Direction Season Color Symbolism Use East Spring Green Creation, Growth Suggested for the design of asylums and hospitals Fire South Summer Red Power Suggested for the design of political centers Earth Center Late Summer Yellow Agriculture Suggested for the design of terraces and balconies Metal West Fall White, gray Money Suggested for the design of commercial centers Water North Winter Black Communication Suitable for every type of environment

* (Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010, p. 28) Feng Shui and Chinese Communication Being an ancient Chinese tradition, Feng Shui has affected more than just spacial design in Chinese culture. The discipline has seeped into the minds of the culture, influencing not only the interior of a space, but also the location and direction of buildings, names of companies, and social interaction. In Chinese culture, Feng Shui is not a method of interior design nor a trending fad. Isntead, Feng Shui is a way of life. This way of life affects the society as a whole, as Feng Shui principles are integrated into the political system, to public aesthetic and architecture, and personal life (Guo-Ming, 2007). In Chinese culture, all things tie into the philosophy of Feng Shui. When deciding on the location of a building, one must ensure that the aesthetic of the building matches with other buildings in the commercial strip, and moreso, that the building is placed on a main road within a


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city (Guo-Ming, 2007). Feng Shui principles also create guiding lines for business owners who are choosing a name for their company. A good name should provide an underlying message of wealth, luck, and fortune (Guo-Ming, 2007). Once the decisions of building placement and company name are made, one can continue to use the elements of Feng Shui to design the interior of the space. Feng Shui also influences Chinese interpersonal communication by distinguishing two types of interactions (Guo-Ming, 2007). The first of these interactions is described as a harmonious relationship. When applying the principles of Feng Shui to the design of a space, the goal is to create a harmonious environment in which positive energy can travel. This is a similar concept when applied to social interaction. When people of Chinese culture interact with one another, they are working to achieve social harmony so that they can work together, perform well, and develop strong relationships (Guo-Ming, 2007). Social harmony is a concept that is applied to every interaction, including interactions within the workplace. The second of the two interactions influenced by Feng Shui principles is described as selective communication. Selective communication encourages that a person interact with others that have similar personality types and compatible birthdays, giving reference to the Chinese calendar (Guo-Ming, 2007). By applying this concept to everyday life, a person will often have a better understanding of the type of personality he or she is compatible with. This understanding leads to stronger friendships, and in some cases, marriages (Guo-Ming, 2007). Feng Shui and Christianity According to the article, the philosophy and practice of Feng Shui originated in East Asia and South East Asia, and is noted to predate Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, which Yeow-


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Beng describes as the three religions with the greatest historical impact on China (Yeow-Beng, 2004, p. 342). Today, this ancient practice is becoming an increasingly popular trend among Westerners. The principles of Feng Shui are based on a connection with the natural environment, striving to create a flow of positive energy and balance. Because this tradition is becoming such a favored practice, this article studies the compatibility of Feng Shui with Christian beliefs and traditions. The article defines Qi, pronounced chi, as an energy that flows according to the contours of physical objects. It is also used to describe the wind that works meteorologically and the unseen energy that works in ones body (Yeow-Beng, 2004, p.350). Yeow-Beng goes on to explain that the most comparable piece of Feng Shui to Christianity would be Qi to the Holy Spirit. (2004). That said, Qi as a force of energy is believed to suggest certain notions, such as fate or luck, which gives it a spiritual quality (Yeow-Beng, 2004). This leads to the suggestion that Christians stay away from Qi because of its close collaboration with divination(Montenegro, 2001). Mixing the philosophy of Feng Shui with Christianity could potentially be problematic because Christianity is a monotheistic religion. Yeow-Beng warns that Feng Shui is incompatible with the Christian faith (2004). Much of the research in this literature review has not taken into account the compatibility of Feng Shui with other religious affiliations. Though research shows countless benefits to not only organizing a space according to the principles of Feng Shui, but also living the lifestyle that Feng Shui promotes, the philosophy is based off of Eastern religious practices which is a large contrast to many Western religious practices. Since Feng Shui is based on Qi the idea of creating energy flow and balance it would be difficult for a Christian to desire to arrange a space according to the principles of Feng Shui without somewhat contradicting their own beliefs. Yeow-


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Beng describes that feng shui is rooted in divination and that the practice of it presents a rival object of faith in God (Yeow-Beng, 2004, p. 352). Feng Shui and Environmental Psychology Though the purpose of this literature review is to discover the role of Feng Shui in proxemics, understanding the distinguishing characteristics between environmental psychology and the discipline of Feng Shui is essential. Environmental psychology is the study between people and the sociophysical features of the natural and built environment (Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010, p. 24). With that said, the goals of environmental psychology are to enhance human well-being and improve people-environmental relations, which line up with the goals of Feng Shui almost exactly (Bonnes & Carrus, 2004). Feng Shui principles are becoming increasingly popular in spacial design among Western cultures, and many of its practices are integrated into the application of environmental psychology, but there are some important differences to be noted (Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010). According to the article, environmental psychologists study the ways that the design of the built environment allows for human activities and promotes their well-being (Bonaiuto, 2004; Gifford, 2002). Both environmental psychology and Feng Shui are centralized around the idea of how physical environments affects a persons feelings and well-being. Environmental psychology studies the possibilities and probabilities of human activities within the space, whereas in Feng Shui, the constructs of the environment often determines the human activities that take place within that space (Strange & Banning, 2001; Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010). Both environmental psychology and Feng Shui have a goal to arrive at a similar outcome, but each has a different route and underlying reasons for arriving at that outcome. Environmental psychology and Feng Shui merge, however, when considering restorativeness and control.


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A restorative environment, by design, is therapeutic and aids in reducing fatigue and stress (Evans and McCoy, 1998). These therapeutic benefits occur when a persons has a sense of control, or mastery over his or her environment. Mastering an environment increases confidence and comfortability, which betters a persons attitude toward a space (Evans and McCoy, 1998).The discipline of Feng Shui takes this concept a step further than environmental psychology by describing the types of objects that must be placed in a space to promote the therapeutic outcome, such as plants, windows, and water features. Benefits of Feng Shui in Various Settings Benjamin Poole is an English teacher at Cardiff High School in South Wales. In his article, Classroom Feng Shui, he discusses observations that he has made in classrooms that hinder a students opportunity to learn, and he proposes solutions that may increase the productivity of the learning environment. Poole writes, Our first target was to focus on the Feng Shui of our classrooms, the placement and arrangement of space to achieve harmony within an environment (Poole, 2005, p. 76). In considering the incorporation of Feng Shui into a learning environment, Poole and his colleague, Mark Lewis, note the benefits of decorating the walls with brightly colored posters and the students work in order to inspire and encourage them, while stimulating their creativity. Pooles next step in adhering to the philosophy of Feng Shui is to incorporate nature into his classroom. He explains that interaction with plants and animals has been proven to help people with illnesses recover more quickly, and that plants absorb negative toxins in the air and transform them into positive ions and breathable oxygen. This benefit helps to filter the air that is being recycled among 30 students, not to mentions the calming effect of plants. Poole moves on to discuss the energy in a classroom setting, another concept heavily rooted in the philosophy of Feng Shui. Because children in a classroom have a naturally short


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attention span, Poole explains that it is unreasonable to expect them to sit quietly for an hour and listen to their teacher. Instead, they must be engaged in activities and conversation. He encourages teachers to allow students to interact with their fellow classmates and to teach with more focused energy that will allow students to feel that they are in a safe and supportive environment. The three points of achieving harmony within an environment, connecting with nature, and teaching with focused energy are all areas that follow the principles of Feng Shui. Interestingly, Feng Shui is a philosophy usually geared towards designing a space. In Pooles article, however, the principles of Feng Shui are geared not only towards designing space, but also a teaching style to provide a harmonious learning environment. Feng Shui is centered on the idea of creating positive energy in a balanced atmosphere, which makes it a wonderful practice to apply to education. Generally, students thrive in environments where they feel comfortable and supported. Thus, by integrating the functions and philosophy of Feng Shui into the learning environment, a student can achieve more from their academic experience. This article is supportive of the benefits of Feng Shui not only in terms of spacial arrangement, but also in terms of thought--creating an aesthetically inspiring and supportive space, focusing energies to achieve a task, and relying on nature for its calming and healing benefits. Another unlikely setting that may benefit from the practice of Feng Shui is a dental office. In the article, Finding a Place for Feng Shui in the Dental Practice, Marks describes how to create harmony with the five elements of Feng Shui in an office. (Mark, 2009) By keeping the elements balanced, the work environment is much more pleasant among colleagues, patients, friends, and so forth. In Marks descriptions and examples of applications of the Feng Shui elements into a work space, she notes that, clutter creates lifeless Qi and stagnation within the workplace. This can drain energy (Marks, 2009, p.18). Marks goes on to describe the Bagua map


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which was used by Feng Shui masters in ancient years, and explains the ways that the floor plan of a work space can benefit the happenings of the business by creating positive flow and harmony. She concludes that the goal of Feng Shui is to create a safe and supportive environment for employees and patients (Marks, 2009). In her article, Marks includes a list of Feng Shui Must-Haves with an illustration demonstrating the suggestions in the list. The items in the list (including color, electric energy, lighting, plants, and smells) cover seemingly every aspect of a work space. Since medical spaces are often a bit invasive and doctors move right into a patients intimate space, the goal to incorporate Feng Shui design methods into a medical offices is to create a calm and comfortable environment for the patient. Marks information connects with other research and supports that the incorporation of Feng Shui into any medical environment reduces the amount of time it takes for patients to recover from surgery, while providing a calming aesthetic to the room. Accordingly, this article can be applied to more than just a dental office. Because most work environments experience stressful situations at one time or another, Feng Shui concepts should be considered to improve work tensions. The idea of it is to relieve stress which will promote thought clarity and more effective work ethic. The benefits of Feng Shui can translate into any space and improve the negotiation of space among all who interact with it. Feng Shui has also proven to be beneficial in other areas of the medical field. In another article entitled, Creating a Healing Environment, the concept of a healing environment goes beyond just a client-therapist relationship. La Torre notes that certain characteristics of a room or facility can greatly reduce recovery time.Windows, plants, and artwork are most noted to expedite the healing process in a patient. La Torre goes on to explain that, ...since the earliest evolutionary times human beings have had to be aware, responsive, and sensitive to their environment. It was


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essential for survival (La Torre, 2006, p. 262). People are more in tune with their environment when they feel comfortable and secure. For that reason, the healing process is improved when the space in which the patient is recovering makes the patient feel relaxed and at ease. Colors have been proven to have a direct impact on the mood of clients in a therapeutic setting--some colors promote relaxation, while others trigger excitement. Certain characteristics of a room can foster healing and improve the mental state of a client in a therapeutic setting. Of those characteristics, daylight, windows, art, plants, and colors seem to make clients feel more at home and at peace despite the struggles that they may be facing. A trending thread in the cumulative research for this literature review is that environmental factors are often overlooked when considering a persons condition, but the external factors play an influential part in nurturing a person back to health, posing reason to consider the art of Feng Shui when designing therapeutic facilities. Daylight, windows, and plants connect people to nature and stimulate happy emotions. Art pieces, such as paintings of a paradisal island, or a majestic mountain range encourage clients to go to a calm place in their minds. By studying color and its effects on people, a person can generate ideas about what would be the most effective way to paint a space based on the cliental and desired outcome in the setting. All of these factors affect a client or patients level of comfortability in a room, so knowing how to use these characteristics to achieve faster recovery and better therapeutic interaction can be undeniably beneficial. Conclusion Feng Shui is a philosophy that can be molded to fit all aspects of life, whether it be social interaction, naming a company, designing a space, or teaching a class. When people feel restored and in control of their space, they negotiate the space more productively, efficiently, and

Running Head: HOW IS FENG SHUI USED IN PROXEMICS? confidently. Though Feng Shui is growing increasingly popular in Western cultures,

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environmental psychologists study similar topics in an effort to reach a outcome similar to the goals of Feng Shui. The difference is that environmental psychology is based on methodologies and studies, while comparatively, Feng Shui is based on beliefs and speculations (Bonaiuto, Bilotta, & Stolfa, 2010). Because this is the case, one should reference studies from both environmental psychology and Feng Shui to obtain the best results for their purpose. Nonetheless, Feng Shui is an ancient practice that is still thriving today, and can be used to create calming, interesting, and beneficial spaces. Presently available research on the discipline of Feng Shui does not focus on the ways people interact with other people in a Feng Shui environment. Rather, research focuses on the ways that people interact with the environment--the spaces design, flow, energy, harmony, and balance.


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Bonaiuto, M., Bilotta, E., Fornar, F. (2004). Che cose la psicologia architettonica (What is architectural psyhchology) (Italian). Rome: Carocci.

Bonaiuto, M., Bilotta, E., & Stolfa, A. (2010). Feng Shui and Environmental Psychology: A Critical Comparison. Journal Of Architectural & Planning Research, 27(1), 23-34.

Bonnes M, Carrus G. (2004). Environmental psychology overview. In C. Speilberger (Ed). Encyclopedia of applied psychology, Vol. 1. Oxford, UK.: Elseview, pp. 801-814.

Evans, G.W., McCoy, J.M. (1998) When buildings dont work: The role of architecture in human health. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 18:85

Gallagher, W. (1999). How places affect people. Architectural Record, 187(2) 74-214.

Gehl, J. (2010). Cities for people. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Gifford, R. (2002). Environmental Psychology: Principles and practice, 3rd Edition. Colville, WA: Optimal Books.

Guo-Ming, C. (2007). The Impact of Feng Shui on Chinese Communication. China Media Research, 3(4), 102-109.

La Torre, M. (2006). Creating a Healing Environment. Perspectives In Psychiatric Care, 42(4), 262-264. Lee Fleming, R. (2007). The art of place making: Interpreting community through public art and urban design. London: Merrell Publishers.

Marks, L. (2009). Finding a place for Feng Shui in the dental practice. Journal Of The California Dental Hygienists' Association, 24(2), 18-19.


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Montenegro, M. (2001) Feng Shui: New Dimension in Design. Christian answers for the new age. Retrieved 9 October 2012 from http://cana.userworld.com/cana_fengshui1.html

Poole, B. (2005). Classroom feng shui. Education Review, 19(1), 76-82.

Strange, C & Banning, J. (2001) Education by Design: Creating campus learning environments that work. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Yeow-Beng, M. (2004). Living in harmony with one's environment: A Christian response to Feng Shui. Asia Journal Of Theology, 18(2), 340-361.