Raise your hand if you still haven’t perfected your work from home space in the past 8 months. Unfortunately, not many of us have, perhaps because we were hoping it wouldn’t last this long. But here we are, round 2 of a local lockdown.
This time around, we decide to look deeper into how to create a work at home environment which works for us. Put away your purse, this won’t be about getting the latest desk, chair, plants or whatnot. This is about the art of feng shui and working with what you have.
To tell us a little more about this Asian philosophy, we spoke with New York-based architect and feng shui educator, Anjie Cho.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you came about being a specialist in feng shui?
I think as I started to reach my late twenties – which is astrologically called your ‘Saturn Return’ – I started to revisit what my life was about and I found myself in a very challenging place. I was really unhappy with the work I was doing, I was an architect and I just felt like my life was being slowly drained away by going to work everyday, day-in and day-out. I started asking myself is that really all that life is about? And so I did what a lot of people do and travelled a lot in my twenties. During this time, I had a huge epiphany whilst on this trip to Thailand and I realised I needed to change my entire life and incorporate self care and spirituality in my life. So I came back to New York where I started to study meditation and yoga.
This naturally led to my curiosity as to how I could integrate this into my work, because your work takes up a great deal of your time, your life and your energy. Unfortunately I got laid off in 2009 during the last big US recession, but I took that as a sign to get my feng shui certification. I just jumped into it, started to study and I was so delighted to see this new world unfold in front of me that just made my heart think. This was my opportunity because I realised I couldn’t get a job and I needed to do something for myself for once. Honestly, my whole life transformed. It was like doors opened that I never knew were there and all I needed to do was walk through these doors that were strategically placed in front of me and just accept all of the blessings that I had and that the universe was offering me.
What are the main characteristics that define feng shui?
So feng shui literally translates to the words wind and water – feng is wind and shui is water. I would say that the generic definition is ‘feng shui is an Asian art of placement and an ancient Asian philosophy where you look at how you can position yourself in your environment to receive the most opportunities and to feel safe and secure’. Which is what we all really hope for, right?
Another way in which I actually describe feng shui is ‘mindfulness of your home’ or ‘mindfulness of your spaces’. When you think about it, feng shui is actually a lot like meditation. You start to pay attention to the details in your environment. Very often, we move through life with blinders on and we’re unaware as to how much our environment affects us or even what’s happening in our environment. So it’s about stopping, slowing down and connecting with the phenomenal world around us. When we begin to do that, when we can stop and start to connect with our environment, we can start to see that we are interconnected and interdependent with the world around us and with the people around.
Essentially, feng shui looks at the flow of energy in a space which is called qi which is ‘life-force energy’. For example, acupuncturist look at how to move qi inside your body or martial artists look at how qi moves with your body. Feng shui connects all of these, it looks at the qi in your body, of your body, of your space and how we’re all made of the same energy. Like the old saying, we’re all made of the same stardust, it comes back to how we are interconnected, which I think is a very deep teaching especially during these times.
The UK – and a big part of the world – is in the midst of a second lockdown, what are your three top tips on how to feng shui your living space to make it more ‘work from home’ friendly?
So many have found themselves working from home and I would imagine no one really anticipated having to work from home for this long. Everyone has a different work from home obstacle which they’ve had to overcome, whether it be not having enough space to not having a home office.
When you are working from home – whether you have an office with a desk or you’re sitting on your sofa with your coffee table in front of you or sitting at your dining room table – whatever situation you happen to be in, it’s all workable and you just need to work with what you have. With that, one of the first things I might recommend is that no matter what your work from home area is, put yourself in what is called the ‘commanding position’. In feng shui there’s this concept called the ‘commanding position’ and it governs how you are positioned and located in a space. So for example, no matter what your work from home space looks like, you want to position yourself in a way where you can see the door without being directly in line with it. This puts you in a position where you can ‘see’ the opportunities coming to you. This creates a feeling of security rather than vulnerability and therefore a more relaxed and focused mood.
So I’ve been working from home for quite some time – way before the lockdown – and it’s quite important to notice what you’re looking at when you’re working from home. If, for example, you’re staring at a wall this gives you a feeling of not being able to move forward. Therefore my tip would be to try to expand your view point whilst sitting at your desk by either setting up a mirror or hanging some artwork that is either visually expansive or energetically expansive, like a vision board for instance.
Another thing to watch out for is whether you’re looking out a window. Whilst most people think that it’s really pleasant to have that view right in front of them, it actually messes with your qi energy as your focus won’t be with the work that you’re doing. Instead your mind is always leaving and that creates an inability to focus. So unless you want to sit at your desk all day daydreaming, I would recommend having the window on your side rather than in front of you.
Does the size of your living space matter or do you think feng shui can be applied to all spaces?
I mean of course you want to have enough room for the amount of people that are living in your home and for what you want to achieve in your home, however people need to work with what they have and usually people automatically adjust to their home spaces. Home spaces are dependent on a lot of factors, economic and location mostly, so I think feng shui can be applied to all living spaces and it’s simply about working with what you have.
You recently wrote an article about how feng shui can help with your creativity, do you think it can also help with our mental health and anxiety?
Absolutely! Feng shui is actually a lot about your mental health and anxiety and it can help to support you. Mental health and anxiety comes up a lot with my students and clients. I myself have suffered from depression and anxiety, but it’s improved over time with meditation. But when you think back at when I spoke about the ‘commanding position’ that is a big part as to how feng shui can help. It’s about accurately positioning yourself in your environment so that you can reduce your stress levels. Think of it like when we used to be able to go to restaurants, if you’re waiting for someone but your body is turned away from the door, you constantly need to turn around, listen on whether someone is going to creep up behind you. So there’s a level of not being able to control your environment because you simply can’t see who’s approaching you. But if you situate yourself in a way where your back is protected, that you can see the door without being aligned with it, you have control of the whole room. Over time, if you’re not in a ‘commanding position’, this can start to affect you. It’s very subtle, but the stress levels can ultimately affect your mental health and anxiety.
Tell us a little bit more about ‘space clearing’
Space clearing is about recognising the energetic vibrations of space as well as objects and people and how they affect each other. So it’s helpful to periodically reset because we can easily fall into patterns that may not be supporting us. We unconsciously go about our day to day routines and fell into these mindless patterns that aren’t helpful to us. So when you space clear, you’re actually able to break through those patterns.
And finally, what do you find has kept you sane during this roller coaster of a year?
Actually, at the beginning of the pandemic I got Covid so I was quite sick. It was a difficult experience and I even went to the emergency room. I would say this was the closest I’ve ever been to to a near death experience. Coming out, I really became more grateful, passionate and valued my health and my priorities a lot more. When we go through these challenges, we have an opportunity to examine our lives and our priorities. After I got better, I actually really thrived a lot during the pandemic because for once I was forced to stop and take care of myself. I’m actually quite to workaholic and the lockdown gave me a lot of space.
Now that were in month 9 or 10, I have found that it’s becoming a little bit more challenging because I’ve been accustomed to doing two or three meditation retreats annually and I haven’t been able to do it obviously. I think to try to keep me sane I’m going to turn to doing a home meditation retreat over the holidays. I’ve also been creating little goals for myself. One is to have a ritual which I rely on, just one rather than overwhelming myself. I’ve also been taking the time to get rid of any clutter I have in my home and letting go of things which aren’t supporting me anymore. I’ve also been trying to get some more fresh flowers into my home to bring in some nature.
Anjie Cho is an arhictect, feng shui educator and author of Holistic Spaces: 108 Ways to Create a Mindful and Peaceful Home. Anjie is a sought-after expert in the fields of feng shui and interior architecture. She is the owner of Anjie Cho Arhitect, co-founder of the Mindful Design Feng Shui School, and the founder of Holistic Spaces which hosts a blog, podcast and online store.
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