The ancient Chinese art of design, Feng Shui, extends well beyond home decorating. Based on the premise that our environment can profoundly affect our physical, emotional and spiritual well being, many factors contribute to this style of design. First used to help farmers decide where to plant their rice fields and build their houses, Feng Shui’s principles today are used to design both interior and exterior spaces where people feel comfortable interacting with one another. Creating a space that makes you feel good includes its directional orientation, arrangement of items, spatial layout of furniture and placement of objects, as well as the source, intensity, location and direction of the room’s lighting.

Well-known to Feng Shui practitioners, lighting can dramatically transform any space. Dependant upon how it is lit, a room can be perceived as cool and sterile, small and cramped, or warm and cozy. “How a space feels,” says Feng Shui consultant and lecturer Linda Varone, RN, MA, CFS, “affects how people respond at a conscious and unconscious level. While some spaces just don’t feel right and people want to leave right away, other spaces invite people to relax and talk comfortably about personal concerns.”

Yin and Yang

Feng Shui is based on the principle of yin interplaying with yang. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang represent the two cosmic, opposing forces of the universe. Yin is the receptive, passive, solid and cold force, while yang is the aggressive, energizing, moving and warm force. As such, light is perceived as a yang element. Using bright light within a space or shining it on an object increases the active energy of that location.

To encourage the restfulness and inactivity typically desired as part of a massage session, reducing the amount of light is favored. However, this concept does not encourage complete darkness, as achieving balance always remains the goal in Chinese-driven philosophies. The well-known yin-yang symbol represents such equilibrium, illustrating darkness following light, while each retains a small component of the other.

Effective Feng Shui occurs when yin and yang are harmoniously balanced. For example, a room with no windows, very little light and dark walls is exceedingly yin in nature, and needs a yang force to balance it. In this example, bringing in yang with appropriate lighting will stimulate the energy and transform this room into a pleasant space.
In the physical realm, light is radiant, electromagnetic energy. When light strikes the retina, it creates visual sensations, stimulating a neurological response in the brain. Revealing shape, size, texture, color, depth and location, light encourages brain activity. Desired during a massage session, a hiatus from conscious brain activity leads to increased relaxation. On the other hand, an overly darkened room can transmit feelings of depression and suffocation. Once again, finding a balance between light and dark is conducive to healing.


Most institutionalized healthcare settings use florescent lights that function by flickering on and off up to 60 times per second. While this is too rapid for the eye to see, this flicker is noticed on a subliminal level and can cause fatigue. To counter this effect, lamps using incandescent bulbs or windows bringing in natural sunlight reduce the impact of a flicker. Although relaxation is desired in bodywork, causing fatigue from over-stimulation of the eye runs contrary to a healer’s purpose.

Hard and Soft

When choosing lighting for a massage space, it is important to consider the difference between hard and soft lighting.
Hard lighting equates to a brightly lit area, and is best suited for areas requiring attention or concentration. Hard lighting makes hallways, landings and porches safe and can help spaces seem wider. For vulnerable individuals, prolonged exposure to hard lighting creates feelings of stress. Hard lighting includes:

  • Direct light (ex: spotlight)
  • Fluorescent light
  • High wattage bulbs

Soft lighting reduces brightness, encouraging relaxation. Also called ambient lighting, this illumination is ideal in the actual room where massage therapy is administered. Ambient lighting comes from an indirect light source that throws light against a wall or ceiling, creating soft illumination through reflection. Ambient lighting creates a relaxing, inviting atmosphere with:

  • Indirect light (ex: sconces)
  • Floor torchieres or uplights
  • Lamp shades
  • Yellow or pink lighting
  • Dimmed lighting or low wattage bulbs

Diffuse, indirect, soft and low lighting are a bodyworker’s best bet in creating a relaxing, comforting and healing environment. By using the principles of Feng Shui in lighting up your massage space, you are adding another dimension to your services. Careful consideration of the type of illumination you use and how it will affect your clients is a relatively small detail that can make a big difference in your practice.

References:, Yin Yang, Jennifer Emick, About Inc., 2006., Feng Shui Balancing Tools Including Color and Light, Kathy Browning, Associated Content, Inc., 2006., Feng Shui Cures, About, Inc., 2006.,au, Lighting, Gayle Atherton, 2002., Fantastic Fixtures, Sally Fretwell, 2006., In Other Words…Using Feng Shui to Improve Healthcare Communication, Helen Osborne, MEd, OTR/L, Boston Globe’s On Call Magazine, May 2001., Feng Shui: Light and Lighting, Sally Fretwell, Qi Journal 2006., Integrated Lighting Design Boosts Performance, Strang, 2006.