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March 10, 2005

Before feng shui, there was vastu shastra
Indian science has formulas to align a home with nature

Interiors, décor can be modified to best advantage



The next time you want to rearrange the furniture, let a 3,500-year-old Indian science called vastu shastra help with the project.


Called vastu for short (vastu meaning "place of dwelling" in Sanskrit and shastra meaning science), it originates in the Vedas, which are ancient sacred Hindu scriptures. It's only recently being embraced by Westerners, who are finding that there is a connection between the spaces that they live in and their bodies, minds and souls.


Vastu has formulas for planning and constructing a home to align it with nature's five elements: sky, air, earth, fire and water.


Each element is associated with a particular direction: water in the northeast, fire in the southeast, earth in the southwest, air in the northwest and space in the centre.


Vastu principles are also based on the sun's influence, the wind's direction, the position of the moon, the earth's magnetic field and the influence of the cosmos on our planet.


"Living the way we are in modern cities, there's not much scope to get land and make structural changes," says real estate agent Suresh Jaura, who has also been a vastu consultant in Toronto since 1995. "But you can change the use of rooms, furniture placement and if possible, re-do the interiors."


As you look over your décor, pause to consider this: Is the fireplace against the south wall? That's the fire quadrant and vastu advocates placing heavy objects in the south and west of your home to block the negative energy of the midday sun.


Among other general rules, the door to your home should be in the auspicious east or north, the kitchen in the southeast corner and the bed in the southwest corner of the house. (The southwest corner is the earth quadrant and is considered to have an anchoring effect.)


An east-facing kitchen gets the morning sun, which is filled with energy, while the orange rays at dusk filtering into the bedroom are conducive to rest.


Sleeping with one's head to the north is a no-no. According to vastu principles, the human body acts as a magnet with the head as its North Pole. If the head points north while sleeping, the North Poles of the body and Earth will repel each other, affecting the blood circulation and causing disturbed sleep and stress.


But beyond generalities, come the specifics. How will a particular home benefit?


Some consultants, like Jaura, incorporate numerology to personalize their advice. Others, like Manhattan-based Kathleen Cox, use ayurveda, an ancient Indian medical science that examines a person's constitution to decide what kind of décor complements his or her health.


Cox, who calls vastu "yoga for the home," would recommend water-based décor such as an indoor fountain and using earth colours to calm and ground a person with a fiery temperament.


You'd be hard-pressed to avoid Cox even with the most desultory Internet searches on vastu. She has studied the subject extensively, having spent more than a decade living in India. Cox brought the science to North America, has written two books on it and is persevering in her efforts to make it part of the mainstream.


It's not an easy task, being faced with resistance from skeptics. "Vastu today is where yoga was 25 years ago," she says. "People don't want to acknowledge that space has an impact, that space is powerful."

A circle is a dynamic shape. So a circular table is ideal for brainstorming

Pradeep Anand, president of Versatile Microsystems, which integrates computer systems for retail stores, says his budding interest in vastu was further sparked when he consulted with Jaura about his Toronto workplace.


Anand expanded and moved into a south-facing office in his building, creating two spaces for work. His business "literally dropped to zero" for three months after that. Jaura then advised him to use only his original office. In vastu, south is the most inauspicious direction for an entrance — the direction where the god of death dwells


"For me, the results were dramatic," he says of the change. He landed a big deal within a month.


He obtained vastu advice for his home, too. He had to tinker with his existing décor — his home office was moved to one of the bedrooms on the top floor of the house from the basement, since basements are not conducive to proper energy flow. Anand also changed the placement of some of his furniture. Did it make a difference at home?


"I have a smooth-running family," he says. He doesn't know how much of that is due to vastu, but something is working. "Vastu doesn't do everything. But it is one more tool one uses to fix things," says Anand.


So, is vastu just another word for feng shui? No, say the experts, citing inherent differences. "Unlike feng shui," says Cox, "vastu isn't prescriptive — it simply tells you the consequences of your actions."


For instance, it tells you a circle is a dynamic shape. So a circular table is ideal for brainstorming or can be used in restaurants that want a quick turnover. But a square-based dining table is conducive for eating leisurely. However, "it isn't a malevolent science,'' she says. It doesn't say do this or you'll face bad luck.


There is another school of vastu thought that views décor changes as merely cosmetic. If changes must be made, start from scratch — from choosing a suitable land for your home, to constructing it according to vastu principles.


The Maharishi Global Construction (MGC) does just that. Inspired by one-time Beatles' guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — who is said to have introduced transcendental meditation to the world — the firm offers vastu-based design plans and consultation on issues ranging from the ideal topography of the land for your home, to the colour of your walls.


Founder Doug Greenfield is a private developer and a partner in an oil company in the U.S. Midwest. He was "completely shocked'' by the effect of moving his oil company to a Fairfield, Iowa building built on Vedic principles. The company became more coherent, employee-broker disputes were resolved and sales went up 20 per cent every year except one, when it was impacted by the 9/11 crisis.


Greenfield holds the volunteer position of president of MGC. Building a house the Vedic way, using environment-friendly materials, can cost up to 10 per cent more than usual homes. But there is interest, he says, among "forward-thinking people that want to protect the earth and the environment and society."


The company has built homes in the U.S. and Canada for blood and cancer centres, offices, condos and "hundreds of residential homes.''


One of these homes is in Sarnia, Ont. owned by Shannon and David Bourke, who teach transcendental meditation.


"The colours on our walls are cream and gold, pastel pinks and peach ... with no dramatic contrast especially in the bedrooms," says Shannon Bourke. "There is no black, no grey. We have to use very clear colours and keep the home light and airy.


"There is so much light in the house, we notice the changes in the sun and moon every night. We feel very connected to nature," she says.


They use all-natural materials — silk curtains in the meditation room and bedroom, granite kitchen countertop, marble fireplace and wood floors. The home faces Lake Huron to the north, the best location for water in vastu.


The cost of building their house 11 years ago was in the $400,000 to $500,000 range.


Most precious of all, Bourke says she experienced a miracle. After multiple miscarriages, she was told she could have no more children. After moving into this house, she had another baby. It was a girl.


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