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Feng Shui Basics: A Glossary of Feng Shui Terms and Concepts

Feng Shui Basics: A Glossary of Feng Shui Terms and Concepts
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If you’ve been curious about feng shui for a while, you’ve probably heard about qi, yin and yang, the five elements, and the bagua. These are all really important foundational concepts in feng shui, so we wanted to dedicate a post to define each of these terms in a little more detail. If you’re interested in diving deeper and learning more about feng shui, we would love to see you in our free Feng Shui Basics course! To join, click here to sign up for our mailing list and you’ll automatically get access as soon as the course opens.

Feng Shui

First, let’s start by going over the question: what is feng shui? Feng shui is a practice that was developed in ancient China. It involves looking at our environments to understand how they affect us energetically. The term feng shui comes from a poem, and the words feng and shui in Chinese translate to wind and water. Essentially, feng shui focuses on creating environments that allow us to live more comfortably and in harmony with nature. A lot of the practice has to do with honoring natural cycles and looking to nature for inspiration.

While feng shui is often lumped together with interior design or decorating, they are not the same thing. Feng shui is an energetic practice, similar to acupuncture, focused on moving qi around a space. This might involve changing the color of a wall or moving furniture, but the focus is on energy rather than aesthetics.


As we hinted above, qi forms the foundation of our feng shui practice. Qi is life force energy, similar to the concept of breath or prana. It is not tangible or visible, but it is something that feng shui practitioners cultivate so that we can feel and understand it. In feng shui, we look at the vital life force of a space, its inhabitants, and the objects in that space. We observe and have curiosity about the flow and the quality of qi.

Yin and Yang

When you hear “yin and yang,” the image that comes to mind is likely the symbol that many of us are familiar with: a circle made up of two swirling teardrops, one black and one white, with a contrasting dot in the center of each. Yin and yang is a concept that comes from Taoism, and it represents a way of looking at the world. Within yin and yang is a paradoxical unity of two sides of the same coin. Yin, which is represented by black, and yang, which is the white, are two contrasting types of qi, and when they come together they become everything. It is a duality, but one with a lot of nuance.

The Five Elements

The five elements, also called the five phases, are a further unfolding of yin and yang.Many cultures have different versions of a four or five element system, and in feng shui we use the five element system that comes from Taoism. This concept is foundational to feng shui as well as many other modalities in Asian culture, including martial arts, Chinese medicine, and Chinese astrology.

The five elements are fire, water, earth, metal, and wood, and they describe and categorize the basic components that make up life and the world around us. Each element is a different signature of qi with different qualities and characteristics, and there are relationships between each of the elements. Like yin and yang, the five elements are different, but they also integrate together.

The Bagua

Bagua is a Chinese word that translates to “eight directions.” A simplified way to think about it is as a feng shui energy map. It’s depicted in many different forms and iterations, and you may have seen it as a square or an octagon, perhaps with different colored sections. Depending on the school of feng shui you practice, you may use the bagua differently, but fundamentally it is the same concept. As feng shui practitioners, we can use the bagua as a form of divination: by laying the bagua on a home, a room, a desk, or even a face, we can gain deeper insight into a situation.

The bagua uses eight trigrams from the I Ching. If you’ve done some research on feng shui, you’ve likely come across a version of it with eight areas around a center, with different areas labeled with things like “Career,” “Family,” and “Relationships.” This is a very simplified way of looking at the bagua — the foundation of each of these areas (called guas) is connected to a particular trigram from the I Ching which represents a certain type of energy found in nature.

We hope these definitions support you as you continue your exploration of feng shui. To learn more, be sure to join our mailing list to get access to our free Feng Shui Basics course and other exclusive feng shui content.