Vaastu shastra: India's answer to Feng shui
Inexplicably moody? Going bankrupt? It could be because your toilet is in the wrong place. Shanthini Naidoo spoke to a consultant in the ancient Indian art of vaastu
The compass app said the head of our bed faced east. I had to check, after learning that according to vaastu shastra, an ancient Eastern architectural science, the body's magnetic field should not align with the Earth's natural north-south pull.
So, should you rest your head in a northerly direction, it could affect the quality of your sleep, your health and your circulation.
I was, until South Africa's foremost vaastu practitioner, Vani Pavadai, pointed me in the right direction(s).
"Vaastu means 'under roof', shastra means 'science', so it is the science of building and architecture," she says. "It dates back as far as 10,000BC and it is from the school of meditation, yoga, astrology and ayurvedic medicine."
Vaastu has attracted renewed interest as a method of creating a halcyonic energy balance.
Pavadai, who worked in business management, now spends her days working out how to balance corporate and personal spaces. It goes beyond clutter or messy office desks.
She says vaastu works with the five elements of nature: water, air, fire, earth and space. Each is connected to colour, shape and metal.
"The colour of fire is red, so pink and similar hues relate. Copper would be the metal, and a triangle is the obvious shape."
Taking into account the influence of directional orientation, the elements must be in balance to create positive energy. Imbalances occur when areas clash with each other.
For instance, the positive energy from a kitchen (fire or stove) could be extinguished by blue walls or a similar "water" element. What about a tap? "It is an earth element because it holds water, it is not a constant flow."
It clearly isn't something you can work out yourself with a wonky compass app.
Pavadai has an impressive compass, which she uses to map floor plans before analysing them.
She learnt about vaastu five years ago.
"My husband and I both had businesses which were doing quite well. We bought a beautiful home in Fourways and put all our resources into making it perfect, as young couples do," she says.
"Then, in the first eight months, there was a gradual shift. Clients were not making payments, we had financial stress. A colleague mentioned that the only thing that had changed in our practices was our home. My first arrogant thought was, 'How could a space cause such a strong financial blockage?'"
She started to read online and found research about living spaces that seemed to make practical and scientific sense.
"I couldn't find anyone who was learned in the practice in South Africa, so I went to India where an 85-year-old guru from Puna was teaching vaastu. The translation made it difficult to grasp, but I knew I loved the concept. For a Wits graduate to leave the structure of learning and embrace this esoteric field was something else."
But she hadn't quite figured out how to solve her sticky financial problem. "Traditional vaastu gave me knowledge but not application. The depth of science was there, but not how to remedy it. Then I found a scientist, also in India. I studied for weeks at a vaastu institute, morning until night, with a translator. One night, it clicked. I phoned my husband and said, 'It's our front door!'" she says, laughing.
"I came back and explained to him. There was an outflow of the financial energy."
So did she move her front door? "No!"
People are not expected to move house or tear down walls. "Energy can be redirected using metal therapy which rectifies the imbalances in the space. In a month or so, our blockages started rectifying."
She started to help relatives and friends, then her clients, by referral.
More than 100 projects later, she abandoned her corporate gig and dedicated her time to her compass, architectural plans and designs for homes and offices.
But how is it that chic grey boardroom walls can affect the mood, prosperity and health of office staff?
"It is about the cosmic energy and how it mimics itself in a built-up space. It takes from the cycles of nature. It relates to how the five elements operate in a destructive or positive way.
"Water produces trees, trees produce oxygen, which fuels fire; when it is extinguished it becomes earth, earth produces space and metal.
"In the same way there is a destructive cycle. Water extinguishes fire, a metal axe destroys a wood and trees, a dam can block water. Red walls [fire] in a water zone, cause imbalance.
"In homes and offices, the earth element is the toilet, it also represents disposal of energy so its location is important."
Native Americans also have a geomancy system and in China feng shui is used in a similar way for building design.
Nick Papadopoulos, director of Mezé Foods, is among those Pavadai has helped. (Another door-misplacement issue.)
"I was open to [vaastu] in terms of creating efficiency. What was interesting was how accurately she picked up accidents, flooding and wastage, which was not a result of our operations procedures," Papadopoulos says.
"We used the methods and they seem to rectify quite quickly. I had a really positive change. It could be chance ... who knows how the universe works, but if you are open to understanding, it makes sense. What I've learned is that there are a few paths to the same place."
Claire Lane Smith, founder of The Yoga Republic in Randburg, said the studio had been built from the ground up using vaastu principles. "We receive compliments about the serenity and calmness of the space all the time. Somehow, you can feel the balance."
Pavadai says: "Directional science is important. It is basic, Grade 7 science really. The east-west flow of energy or the sun force means we have more energy when the sun rises. In the first half of the day there is more ultraviolet energy, which is good for cellular restoration, rejuvenation and happiness. The same with the setting sun; higher levels of infrared energy are good for dropping energy levels and rest. Hence, for a restful sleep, adults should sleep in the western or southern side of the house."
She uses a grid, mapped like those used in reflexology, but over a floor plan.
"The map shows that the south-east is a fire zone, which is good for a kitchen area. A water element, like blue tiles, could douse out the positive effects for prosperity and growth," she says.
The north-east is good for meditation, awareness and focus. "A study in the home, or a marketing team, could sit here, but what happens if you have a toilet here? If there is a water feature in your home that is sitting in the social zone, it is good for social associations," says Pavadai.
In the home, sex and attraction zones are good areas for bedrooms, while in a corporate headquarters the sales staff should work there. Some areas favour fame and prosperity - but in imbalance can create addiction or fanaticism.
"The sages studied these methods in great detail, quantitively, and mapped the zones. So it is not about painting a wall here, breaking walls and construction; nor is it about frivolous things like adding a potted plant to fix a space," says Pavadai.
"The energy fields and systems that occur in nature can affect us and our lives. If there are imbalances, we can remedy them.
"It is about balance, not results or creating wealth ... to feel settled, from the inside. Vaastu is about balancing all the aspects of human life."
For more information visit vaastushastra.co.za.