Vastu: The Yoga of Design
Create the home of your dreams with inspiring tips from Vastu (the yogic theory of design).
In dreams, homes are often symbols of our physical bodies. In Vastu, the “yoga of design,” the structure of our homes is representative of our own bodies: what goes on in one affects the other, and our own little universes of body and home embody the same forces that compose the vast universe. In fact, Mayan (according to legend, the originator of Vastu knowledge some 10,000 to 14,000 years ago) is said to have coined the aphorisms “As in macro, so in micro,” and “As above, so below.”
Vastu is a scientific and spiritually based system of design for all kinds of buildings: temples, businesses, homes. It creates dwellings in which prana (subtle, universal life-force energy: what Chinese systems of feng shui and Oriental medicine call ch’i) flows freely and there are no structural elements that predispose us to illness or problems in life. Buildings constructed according to true Vastu are conducive to good health. The principles of Vastu can also be applied to rectify energy imbalances in existing homes and create the peace and stability we need to have success on all levels, spiritual and material.
Knowledge of Vastu traveled from India along the Silk Road and on sea routes with merchants and monks. It influenced native East and Southeast Asian traditions, as did other fields of knowledge from India: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jyotish (Vedic astrology), and Ayurveda. There are even legends that Buddha himself traveled to East and Southeast Asia and could have brought India’s great knowledge systems with him. Emperor Ashoka, a famous convert to Buddhism, sent specialists in India’s traditions to Southeast and East Asia to meet local practitioners, find their indigenous traditions, and offer knowledge. These probably brief seminars brought valuable information that melded with the local customs.
Like meditation and yoga, Vastu is universal and useful for people everywhere. It is not a style of architecture or interior design; it is a complete system based on natural laws that can work with your own sense of style and beauty. You can have a Tudor Vastu home or a New Mexico Territorial Vastu home, Spanish Mission–style Vastu architecture, or log cabin Vastu architecture. Likewise, you are not restricted to a particular style of interior design: lots of frills and lace or a stark, Zen-inspired interior can both work within the Vastu framework. Almost all of your individual preferences in color, style, materials, texture, and furnishings can work in a Vastu home or office. As long as it follows the guidelines, is beautiful, and is well constructed with natural materials, any architectural style or design scheme can work with Vastu.
Meditation connects us with the source of pure consciousness; Vastu enhances this effect and connects us with the source through proper design. As a result, it is particularly relevant to people who practice meditation and yoga. Anyone, however, can benefit from applying some Vastu to their home. Here are a few guidelines that will help you turn your home into a yogic sanctuary.
The Five Elements: Panchabhutas
The principles of Vastu connect the dweller of the Vastu home with the subtle laws of nature, such as the energy grid of the earth, beneficial earth energies, and cosmic energies from the sun. They also align the home with the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space, which are called panchabhutas in the Vedic tradition. Each of these five basic elements is energetically associated with a particular direction. This is not an arbitrary assignment but an acknowledgement of the subtle laws of nature. By honoring the various elements and their primal energies, we are in greater harmony with nature. This results in greater harmony and ease in our lives.
Earth: Bhumi or Prithivi
The earth element is associated with the southwest direction, the best choice for the location for the master bedroom. Earth is a solid, dense, and grounded element. We all need a physical basis or foundation to survive in this world. Plants, trees, soil, rocks, and mountains represent the earth element.
Northeast is the direction where the energy waves of the water element collect. This makes it the best placement for indoor and outdoor water features: swimming pools, fountains, ponds, waterfalls, and aquariums. Water is frequently used as a metaphor for pure consciousness in the Vedic tradition.
The fire element is predominant in the southeast, so it is the best placement for kitchens, fireplaces, computers, and other electrical equipment. Digestion in the body and transformation are also the realm of agni. To add and honor this element, light fires. Enjoy an indoor or outdoor fireplace in the southeast, and light non-toxic candles made of beeswax.
The air element is liveliest in the northwest, so put fans, wind streamers, mobiles, wind chimes, and air purifiers here. The concept of movement in general is associated with this element and its direction. To reap the benefits of the prana in the air, learn and practice pranayama (yogic breathing techniques), preferably with windows open enough to bring fresh air into the room. Be sure that the air in your home is fresh. If your home has stagnant areas, you can use fans to keep the air moving.
This element is directly linked to sound and silence. Akasha (sometimes called “ether”) is the expansiveness in the center of the architectural form and in the center of each room, the element of “energetic and dynamic space.” The center of the building and each room is called the Brahmasthan. It is the interface between the seen and the unseen, the manifest and the unmanifest. Honor the Brahmasthan by keeping it clean and clear, a revered open space. Don’t put heavy objects here.
Fibers from the Earth
The use of natural materials—tile, stone, true adobe, brick, natural linoleum, bamboo, wood—enhances the health and energy of a space and the people who dwell there. Avoid synthetic materials. For instance, many of the plastics we use release dangerous substances into the air for years and create a toxic interior environment.
Natural fibers like cotton, silk, wool, hemp, flax, beechwood cellulose, and linen are healthy and breathable. Natural rubber made from the sap of the Hevea brasiliensis tree has antibacterial properties. Silk, natural rubber, and wool have superior moisture-wicking properties, so they are excellent for mattresses, pillows, and other bedding. These natural materials limit dust mites and prevent allergic reactions. If you want wall-to-wall carpeting, select natural fibers with no chemical treatments. Area rugs can be silk, cotton, flax, wool, or other natural materials. Check that the glue and backing are also natural materials that do not off-gas. Chemical-free carpet pads made of jute and goat hair are a good choice. Choose wood, rattan, or another natural material for your bed frame.
A Vastu home benefits from non-toxic, natural household cleaners. Studies have shown that essential oils (which are frequently in non-toxic cleaners) are more effective against bacteria, viruses, fungus, and mold than petrochemicals and antibiotics. Your house will smell better and be less toxic. This protects the earth’s soil and water from further contamination.
When choosing paint and varnish, do not select products that off-gas and create illness. Use non-VOC paints, natural paints, and clay-based natural earth plaster created with earth pigments. These can be applied over existing gypsum drywall or Sheetrock to create healthier and more beautiful interior walls.
If you follow all the rules but neglect to create a beautiful building, it is not fully Vastu. This is evident in the Vastu texts that describe the creation of the world. Here is an apt excerpt from the Shilpa Vidya Rahasyopanisad: “The space became decorated and beautified with stars and other luminous bodies. The Earth also became studded and decorated with mountains, forests, trees and so forth.” Vastu encourages you to imitate nature and divine creation by beautifying your own spaces. You should adorn your home with beauty that nourishes your soul. Choose your furnishings carefully and get rid of anything you don’t like or that is worn out. Only add items if you find them useful, beautiful, and comfortable. Adding ornamentation is an act of honoring.
Color has a powerful, emotional impact that is direct and personal. Each shade of a color has a distinct vibrational rate that deeply affects us energetically. There are nourishing shades of all colors. Avoid those that feel depressing, harsh, painful, or jarring. Trust your own response in finding beautiful, pleasing colors. Get small paint samples to try on your walls and then observe the color at different times of the day, since changing sunlight and artificial lighting can make colors look quite different.
In addition to wall colors, you can bring color and its vitality into your home or business space with live plants, cut flowers and leaves, and other elements of nature that appeal to you. Wearing color as makeup, jewelry, and clothing is another healing way to nourish yourself. Colors are food for your well-being.
7 sources of prana
Try these tips to enliven your home with prana, the universal life force.
- An open window in the northwest, the quadrant where the air element is predominant
- A vamsa danda, or spine of light, running unobstructed from the front door straight through the house to a back window or door
- An open Brahmasthan (the center of the building) to allow the structure to generate prana from the middle of the house
- Live plants and flowers in the house; outdoor gardens
- Meditation and healing breath techniques
- Fresh, organic foods in the kitchen (ideally, harvested from your garden or local farmers’ market)
- Water elements such as fountains and aquariums, which replicate streams, waterfalls, lakes, oceans, etc.
Color and the Elements
One of the many ways to work with color in a Vastu home is by choosing colors that honor the direction and the element associated with each color. Here are a few introductory tips:
Earth. The earth element is predominant in the southwest. Earth’s colors are of course earth tones associated with soil: brown, cinnamon, ochre, sienna, umber, sepia, etc. Most earth-colored pigments were originally literally earth; they were harvested from soil and rock.
Water. The northeast direction’s color is blue. Blues and green-blues are associated with the cool element of water. Honor the northeast by using blue paint, actual water features, or images of water.
Fire. Fire’s flame colors of golden yellow, red, and golden-orange, intense rather than pale, acknowledge and embody agni, fire energies in the southeast. If it is pleasing, an apricot kitchen would be uplifting for cooking chores. You can also utilize fiery accents in other southeast rooms of your home.
Air. Air’s colors are a little elusive. They are usually portrayed as light and delicate silver and white. These colors resonate with the air element, which is predominant in the northwest.
Space. The expansiveness of space does not have a particular color assigned to it since it is so subtle an element. However, on a subtle level the center (where the space element is most lively) of the Vastu Purusha Mandala (a grid pattern based on physics that is both the template for a Vastu building and the universe in miniature) is luminous and golden. Gold as a color is beautiful, precious, and radiant; it infers something spiritual, earthly, and eternal.
The Power of Meditation
Meditation and other spiritual practices are basic to enhancing energy—they create balance and improve the quality of your home or office. In fact, the best thing you can do besides building according to Vastu to improve the supportiveness of a space is to do spiritual practices (sadhana). Prayer, meditation, yoga, chanting, and pranayama all enliven a space.
Be consistent with the spiritual practices of whatever tradition you are drawn to. As the Sufi poet Rumi said, your true home is within and reachable by letting go and allowing the mind to go inward. When we feel at home within ourselves and within our own hearts, any building we live in will feel more serene and supportive. Meditation practices make us more perceptive of our environment, so that we intuitively know many of the changes to make. We become more in touch, literally and metaphorically. According to Vastu, the northeast or the center of the home is the best area for meditation rooms, spiritual altars, and yogic practices.
The Transcendental Home
Implementing this type of knowledge from the Vedic tradition transforms us and heals our surroundings. Creating a transcendental home through Vastu provides the base from which we can have happier, healthier, more successful lives, in spite of stress and uncertainty on our beautiful planet. My wish for us all is that we use this great opportunity to transform our homes into oases of tranquility and abundance in harmony with nature. May we become a source of healing and light for ourselves, the environment, and the world.