A Space To Relax
Create a soothing environment wherever you are

By Alonna Friedman

A room is a blank canvas you can design to elicit any mood or help accomplish any goal. Followers of feng shui, the 3,000-year-old Chinese design philosophy, believe that what you place in your surroundings and how you arrange the items deeply affect your sense of well-being. To create a functional space, according to feng shui principles, you must strive to achieve balance with nature and the energy, or qi (pronounced “chee”), within everything.

The proper placement and use of colors, sounds, and symbols of nature are crucial to creating a pleasing environment. The purpose of feng shui is to keep the qi of nature working for, not against, you. “Bringing and placing symbols of nature in a space can create distinct goals for your body, mind, and spirit,” says Jayme Barrett, author of Feng Shui Your Life (Sterling, 2003). “Nature breathes life force that will create harmony inside your environment.”

Here are some suggestions for design elements—props, colors, scents, and sounds—to help create a useful space in four places: a home room for relaxation, an office for productivity, a safe hotel room, and an outdoor escape. Adopt a few or all of these feng shui recommendations and see how you can transform the feeling of a room—and yourself.

Relax at home
The relaxing room is a quiet area where you let the world melt away. Whether it’s in a bedroom, sitting room, or nook by a window, the right atmosphere will help you connect with your inner self. “This will be a space where you are free to explore who you are without other distractions, such as the phone and television,” says Jami Lin, Miami-based interior designer and feng shui expert.

Because clutter causes depression, confusion, and fear, the first step to creating a relaxing room is to banish distractions. The first step to creating a relaxing room is to banish distractions. “Clutter creates depression, confusion, and fear,” says Barrett. “Before you bring in any design elements, you must clean the room. You would not pour fresh milk into a glass of spoiled milk.” But keep in mind that the room does not have to look like a museum. “If it is too perfect, you won’t want to enter and plop down there,” says Douglas Dolezal, a principal in the Portola Valley, California-based interior design firm Miller/Dolezal Design Group.

Once the room is well-organized and clutter-free, bring in elements that echo nature. When you are in harmony with nature, according to feng shui principles, you can more easily achieve the mood you seek. Try using natural sounds, such as a CD of rain, waterfalls, rivers, or the ocean. “Water is the essence of life,” says Barrett. “It nourishes, purifies, and restores our body.” A fountain, with its flowing water, also can create a pleasing sound and encourage energy circulation, Barrett says. When choosing a water element, she suggests first listening to the device in the store to make sure the sound is pleasing. Other natural sounds, such as birdcalls, dolphin and whale speak, thunderstorms, and wind or wind chimes, also are effective.

If the room has no window, or if the window offers an undesirable view, place a photo or painting of a landscape or seascape on the wall. Introduce a living natural object, too, such as a plant. Plants breathe life into a home, offering oxygen and counteracting carbon dioxide. In feng shui, plants are believed to rid the room of stagnancy and create harmony. “You want a plant with rounded leaves that are harmonious, not spiky, [because those] create chaotic energy,” says Barrett. Try a peace lily, pothos, or Chinese evergreen.

Sunlight easily lifts your mood, eases your mind, and allows you to feel comfortable enough to relax, so open the drapes and add mirrors to side walls to reflect light—but don’t hang them opposite windows because they will push energy back outside. In feng shui, the sun is the ultimate life-giver and activates existing energy in the room. The more we are exposed to natural light the better we feel, says Barrett. If you don’t have access to natural light in your relaxation room, choose full-spectrum lightbulbs that simulate sunlight, she suggests.

Accessories can color the room, but be sure they’re soft, muted colors in the bedroom and colors you like for the rest of the house, says Lin. Avoid bright or vibrant tones, which are stimulating, not relaxing. Barrett suggests greens and blues found in nature.

To relieve tension, add a few drops of lavender, chamomile, vanilla, or clary sage essential oils to a diffuser, or use candles or room spray blended with these oils. But avoid using scented potpourri because it’s a feng shui no-no to place anything dead in a room. Because feng shui principles celebrate your relationship with the living, natural world, dried flowers may impede your ability to relax.

Be productive at work
Getting organized can help you relax, but it’s also the key to productivity. To energize yourself at work, begin by clearing the field. “Clean that clutter off your desk,” says Barrett. “Piles of paper confuse and overwhelm you, and they make you inefficient.” If you start with a clutter-free office, you will feel confident and promote that image to coworkers.

Lin suggests putting resource materials behind you, so you don’t look at them all day, but can access them easily. With supplies out of sight, your mind is clear to focus. “In an office, space is usually at a minimum,” she says. “Start storing papers in vertical file drawers up to the ceiling to save floor space and keep you looking up.” The upward gaze is symbolic of your higher goals and aspirations, Lin says.

If you still have trouble keeping your office tidy, Dolezal suggests asking yourself how you create a mess with papers. Do you stack? Try a series of sliding trays that can hide in a cabinet when not in use.

Now that your desk is neatly organized, don’t junk it up with accessories. Lin says 75 percent of each surface should be empty so you aren’t distracted. “One or two symbolic accessories, like the dragon holding a pearl of wisdom I have on my desk, can have the most meaning and really be featured,” she says. To keep desk accessories to a minimum, pare them down by removing all but five items. “Keep the others in a box and change them each month,” says Dolezal. “You don’t want a photo or item to be just something you stare at, and that’s what happens when you look at the same piece each day.” You can also keep yourself motivated by hanging a manifestation board in your line of vision. Barrett describes it as a simple bulletin board on which you pin goals, clips from magazines of things you want to buy with your paycheck, or photos of people you want to emulate. “It’s a visual representation of your career and destiny,” she says.

Plants are another important part of a productive office. Place one by the computer to diffuse the electromagnetic field and bring in oxygen to keep your lungs filled with fresh air and your brain active, not sluggish. Try a pothos, an inexpensive plant that’s easy to keep alive.

Red hues, such as orange and yellow, promote mental activity, says Barrett. Bring the color into your workspace through accent pieces, such as lampshades, chair cushions, or picture frames that hold awards.

In a cubicle or office, your best position is facing the door with your back to the wall. “If your back is exposed, you have to look over your shoulder and you won’t feel comfortable,” she says. If facing the door isn’t an option in your office, place a small mirror above your computer monitor so you can see who is behind you before you turn around.

Fluorescent lighting typically floods offices with a harsh and glaring cast. It’s unnatural, dampens thought processes, and causes fatigue and headaches. If you’re straining to see and you feel uncomfortable, it will be hard to get work done. If you have control over your light source, turn off any overhead lights and try a desk lamp with a full-spectrum lightbulb that imitates sunlight. Or Barrett suggests installing a standing lamp with dimmer to create soft, diffused light. Bathing in this pseudonatural light will energize your spirit and increase your output.

Essential oils of ginger, lemon, orange, eucalyptus, and grapefruit are energizing. Fill your office with these aromas by using a candle, spray, or soundless diffuser that won’t disturb coworkers.

Feel secure traveling
No matter how luxurious a hotel room, you’re still bound to feel like an outsider. When traveling, a few simple tricks can make a more homelike environment in your room, even if only for a few days. “In order to feel secure you need to be surrounded by things that are familiar,” says Barrett. “Take things that anchor you at home—sights, sounds, smells—and bring a sampling to a hotel room.”

At the hotel, ask for a pleasant view away from the noisy elevator, construction, streets, and parking lot. If possible, open the windows and let in fresh air to clear the energy of the previous guest. Then bathe in your own soap or oils to boost your mood, says Barrett.

Place photos of your family and loved ones on your nightstand so you feel connected to home. Even a small item, such as a stuffed animal, favorite crystal, or pillowcase, will boost security. Travel with a book of inspirational poems or prayers to help you feel protected. Barrett also suggests stopping at a market on the way to the hotel to buy a small live plant for your room. Feng shui principles suggest that adding actual life to the room, aside from your own, will put you at ease and increase your sense of safety.

Escape outside
Because nature is so essential to creating a desired mood, according to feng shui philosophy, it makes sense that direct interaction with nature easily evokes your chosen state of mind. The garden provides the ultimate refuge. “Before the urban landscape, nature was our first environment, which makes it the absolute root of restoration,” says Wendy Schmidt, assistant professor of interior design at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. “[Nature] is a very nice place to be. We as humans have evolved to desire this—we needed it for hunting and survival—which is why it is so comforting.”

Water always brings a calming feeling to a garden, according to Tom Flowers, landscape designer with Sanctum Design Group in Atlanta. The sound of water, he says, is more acoustic and soothing to the ear when two types are combined: rippling and falling. “Using one sound is monotonous, but together they act as white noise to block out street sounds,” he adds. If you don’t live near a stream or lake, place a small waterfall and fountain in your yard. They’ll invite your mind to wander elsewhere as you sit comfortably in your favorite garden chair and take in the natural sounds.

Any plant that makes you happy will be a welcome sight in your garden. Grasses, such as miscanthus, will create movement as well as shadow patterns and contrasting colors and textures. This offers something to focus on and listen to, so you can soak in the landscape and push bothersome thoughts out of your mind.

A waterfall, windmill, or wind catcher also carries the eye around the space. But be careful not to have too much movement, or the elements will create a carnival of confusion. Although you want to be immersed in a space that will transport you away from worries, you don’t want to be so overwhelmed with sounds and sights that you end up wanting to escape your escape.

Aromatic plants should be placed at entry points and on conversation tables, as well as in highly visited areas, says Flowers. “Choose fragrances that bring back good memories for you,” he says. “Most of us had positive experiences with gardens when we were growing up—a lily-of-the-valley-laden yard, the rose bush by the mailbox. If that made you happy, try to draw on those memories.”

In the right space
Ready to create your spaces for relaxation, productivity, safety, and escape? With the help of feng shui principles, you’ll be able to fashion the ideal environment wherever you go. Just keep in mind that these are only a few ideas, and once you try some, you can get creative with your own. Says Schmidt, “Soothing, nurturing spaces begin with nature and end with your imagination.” So feel free to engage your dreams—the point is to create a space that feels good for your particular needs.