How Feng Shui Can Improve Your Life

Can moving the objects in your room improve your life? Practitioners of feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of arranging items and elements in the most favorable way, believe so. And while you may not know much about this belief system or even how to pronounce it (“fung shway,” by the way), you experience its principles every day.

When you walk into someone’s home and immediately feel a sense of well-being and energy, that’s good feng shui. On the other hand, when your surroundings make you feel jittery or fatigued, you’ve encountered bad feng shui.

How do you achieve good feng shui? First, by balancing yin and yang, or positive and negative energy. Second, by creating harmony among the five basic elements: water, wood, fire, earth and metal. Much of feng shui is about creating an environment that reflects your intentions and goals, says Susan Chan, a feng shui consultant based in New York City. “Feng shui has a lot to do with psychology,” she says. “When you move objects around, it can help free energy that’s been blocked.”

Here are seven strategies for cultivating more favorable feng shui in your own home and office:

1. Include all five elements in each room. A zebra or leopard throw introduces fire, and a healthy indoor plant introduces wood. Anything yellow or brown -- a vase, drapes, a chair or sofa -- is an earth element. A goldfish swimming in a bowl covers water and metal (the color gold).

2. Enhance romance with bedside tables that match or are about the same size. “This can promote balance and equality in your marriage or relationship,” says Shawne Mitchell, author of Exploring Feng Shui: Ancient Secrets & Modern Insights for Love, Joy & Abundance. Choose rounded dressers and bureaus. Angular furniture with sharp corners sends out “cutting” chi, or life energy, that can damage your relationship.

3. Keep your front door bright and unblocked. It should be able to open at least 90 degrees, so you can receive opportunity and luck, says Chan. Be sure that plants near the front door are healthy, that the key doesn’t stick in the lock and that the outside light works.

4. Be mindful of the command position. When you have a clear view of the main entrance to a room, you feel empowered and safe. In your office, you’ll be more productive because you won’t be distracted by sounds and voices coming from behind you. If you work in a cubicle, try positioning a mirror so you can see the door or opening from where you sit.

5. Clear clutter. Get rid of everything you don’t love, use or need. Clutter in your home is energy-draining and represents emotional stagnation. The process of eliminating all your unnecessary stuff may start out as drudgery, says Mitchell, but it becomes easier as you go along. “Because clearing clutter is a form of emotional and physical release, there should be a new sense of lightness and freedom at the end of it,” she says. “When you are finished, you won’t believe how good you feel.”

6. Repair any leaks or drips in your bathroom right away, says Mitchell. They’re indications of prosperity seeping away. Always keep the toilet lid down so good fortune doesn’t flow out through the bathroom pipes and drains.

7. Maintain balance in the family room. To promote conversation, arrange chairs and couches so they face each other. If you have children, their toys and playthings have their place here, but make sure adult hobbies and interests -- favorite art books, photos from a ski trip -- are also represented.


Kate Middleton: Royal Wedding Beauty

Will she or won’t she … wear her hair up? That’s the question royal watchers are asking about Kate Middleton’s ’do for the big day she marries Prince William -- April 29 -- in Westminster Abbey. One thing’s for sure: The 29-year-old future queen of England has her own sense of style, and she won’t take orders from the royal advisers just because it’s “tradition.”

With her long, shiny chestnut locks that are often topped with a hat (so very British), Middleton might want to wear her hair loose when she walks down the aisle -- that’s her signature look, after all. But given the fact that this is a royal wedding, with 1,900 gold-leafed invitations sent out and a fairy-tale glass coach to ride in after the vows are exchanged, some speculate that Kate’s hair should be as formal as it gets: worn up in a classic style, such as a French twist.

This sleek, sophisticated ’do would showcase the tiara the bride will undoubtedly wear, chosen from many in the queen’s “jewel pool” and usually presented by the queen as a wedding gift. However, “a French twist is so structured, it can look too severe and mature on a young woman,” says hairstylist (and fellow Brit) Christopher Dove of The Doves Studio in Santa Monica, Calif. “That said, I’m sure Kate would look amazing with her hair up in a French twist, but I’m voting for a much more youthful half-up, half-down style.”

Makeup Fit for a Princess
“All of the young brides I make up are asking for smoky eyes on their wedding day,” says Eugenia Weston, an Emmy-nominated makeup artist and owner of Senna makeup studios in Los Angeles. She imagines that Middleton, however, will skip the sultry makeup.

“I think she’ll go for a fresh, clean look -- starting with her skin -- to take advantage of the fact that it’s naturally luminous,” says Weston. “I’d define her eyes with delicate eyeliner, and add a few individual false lashes to fill in where needed for a feathery fringe. I’d also groom her brows so they are dramatic frames for those lovely eyes. And for her mouth, I’d suggest a rosy lipstick, or maybe even a matte shade that reads like a rosy stain.”

The bottom line: Middleton is so pretty, there isn’t much to be done, and in the conservative splendor of Westminster Abbey, dramatic makeup would look inappropriate. 

Your Own Wedding Countdown
Here’s how to achieve the healthiest and most beautiful hair possible on the big day.

4 weeks before the wedding: Schedule a practice session with the hairdresser. Bring in a photo of your dress and the actual headpiece (veil, jeweled clip, headband, tiara, silk flowers). Bring a camera to capture the range of hairstyles (updo, French twist, half-up half-down, long and flowing). At home, print out the top hairstyle so the hairdresser has a handy reference point for the big day. 

3 weeks: Start weekly at-home deep conditioning treatments.

2 weeks: Have hair cut or trimmed. Book an intensive in-salon conditioning hair care treatment.

1 week: So your hair color looks as fresh as possible, wait until now to have your color or highlights done. Have bangs or fringe trimmed. Continue with at-home conditioning.

Day of: At least three hours before the wedding, meet with the hairdresser. If you’ve chosen an upswept style that can be pinned up securely, you can have your hair done earlier. But if your hair will be worn down with soft curls that can go flat, the appointment needs to be closer to the wedding’s start time.

If you’re headed for a tropical honeymoon, don’t forget to pack that at-home conditioner to maintain your hair’s shine and to protect it from the sun and the sea.

Sun-smart Beauty

Beach getaways, sun-drenched escapades … what’s not to love about summer? Keep your beauty routine in tow as you make the most out of the sizzling season.

SPF -- Done Right
If you’re already using a daily SPF 15 moisturizer, chances are good that you’ve covered your sun care basics -- at least on your face, during regular months. In the summer, however, you may want to up the sun protection factor to 30. Switch to a sweat-proof formula, or layer on another SPF product on top of your base. Look for primers, foundations and mineral powders that go the distance when temperatures go up.

“SPF doesn’t mean anything if you don’t do a good job of applying it,” says Bobbi Brown, renowned makeup artist and author of Bobbi Brown Beauty Rules: Fabulous Looks, Beauty Essentials, and Life Lessons. “You need 1 teaspoon of sunscreen for your face, and about 3 tablespoons for your body.” And don’t forget to apply on oft-neglected parts, such as your ears, your hairline, and the tops of your feet. Brown also recommends shopping for a great lip balm with SPF.

Check the Label
There are essentially two main types of sunscreen ingredients: physical blockers titanium dioxide or zinc oxide (which literally block out light), and chemical sunscreens that absorb UV radiation. Mexoryl and octocyclene are popular examples of the latter. Many effective sun care products contain both physical and chemical sunscreens. When shopping for these, look for packages labeled “broad spectrum” -- meaning, they protect from both harmful UVA and UVB rays.

Why bother? UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn, while UVA rays are able to penetrate glass and windows and cause deeper damage to the skin. Both cause wrinkles, freckles and age spots. Most important to note, exposure to both rays significantly ups your chances of getting skin cancer.

Beauty on the Beach
When heading out seaside, ditch the baseball or trucker cap and opt for a tightly woven wide-brimmed hat. “Baseball hats offer sun protection for the forehead, but they aren’t so great for the sides of the face and the nose when you are looking up,” says Dr. Joely Kaufman, a dermatologist and the director of the Aging and Geriatric Skin Center at the University of Miami School of Medicine. And, if you’re planning to be under the sun for long stretches of time, stash your sunscreen in your bag and reapply every two hours, “or more if you are swimming or sweating,” advises Brown.

While it’s tempting (and delicious!) to make a beeline for the lounge chairs and start an authentic summer tan, resist the urge to bake under the rays to simply score that sun-kissed glow. UVB rays are most intense from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and are stronger in summer, at higher altitudes, and in locations that are closer to the equator. Brown recommends faking a tan with the help of self-tanners and bronzers. “They give you the same great glow, and you don’t have to damage your skin to get it.” (Check out our Trends Today blog for fab bronzing and tanning tips!)

Stay Happy and Hydrated!
Summer and sunshine are enough reasons to start smiling. “One of my favorite sayings is that happiness it the best cosmetic for beauty,” shares Brown. “And one of the best ways I know to be happy is to take great care of yourself by exercising, eating right, sleeping enough and drinking plenty of water.” So, take heed: Enjoy the sunny skies, treat your body right and look your absolute summer best.


The Foolproof Guide to Gardening

You don’t need a green thumb -- or even a patch of earth -- to enjoy a vibrant home garden. Today, you can grow flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables in the smallest spaces, from patios and rooftops to windowsills and walls. “There are products on the market now that allow the most space-challenged apartment dweller to enjoy their own garden,” says Shirley Bovshow, host of the online gardening show "Garden World Report." 

Here’s how to make your garden grow and get in on this lifestyle trend with the least amount of effort.

1. Swap manicured lawns for self-maintaining greenery. “High-maintenance gardens that require a lot of intervention are out,” says Geri Miller, founder of Home Grown Edible Landscapes, based in Manhattan Beach, Calif. Instead of raised vegetable beds, the modern garden mixes the ornamental with the edible, growing berries up a trellis alongside climbing roses or tucking tomato plants around zinnias and sunflowers.

2. Outsmart a black thumb with self-watering pots and planters. If you’ve come home to a few too many drooping or wilted plants because you forgot to water them, consider self-watering containers. These have water reservoirs that keep soil perfectly moist for months at a time, and indicators that let you know when it’s time for a refill. You can find self-watering pots for both indoor and outdoor planters in all sizes at gardening centers, online or at big-box retail stores.

3. Harvest a fruit garden from a single tree. You can grow an orchard’s worth of variety by planting a single fruit salad or fruit cocktail tree either in a pot or directly in the ground. These genetic wonders come in several varieties, including a stone fruit salad tree that grows peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots and peachcots, and a citrus tree that yields oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, grapefruits and tangelos.

4. Make cramped spaces bloom. With ingenious new products, you can cultivate plants on a banister or even on your apartment wall. Woolly Pockets are felted planters made from recycled bottles; you hang the Wally version just like you would a painting, fill it with soil, seeds or plants and watch your vertical garden grow. Other models work on floors or tabletops. The Greenbro Railing Planter snaps onto any railing -- round, square, straight, curved, inside or outdoors, and each planter is divided into two separate chambers so you can grow plants that have different water requirements. (Find it at GreenDzigns)

5. Plant a pre-seeded garden mat. As foolproof as gardening gets, these biodegradable mats come with seeds that are already spaced and covered with a weed barrier that protects the seeds and keeps them from being washed away or eaten by birds before they can start sprouting. Just cover them with topsoil and then water. You can find mats pre-seeded with an herb garden; all the ingredients for salsa (including tomatoes, green onion, chili peppers and cilantro); a summer crop of corn, green beans, carrots, radishes; a variety of wildflowers or a mix of flowers that will attract butterflies. Visit the websites for An Easy Garden and Amber’s Garden Mats.

6. Create a hanging spa garden. Cultivate herbs and plants that are traditionally used in beauty treatments and you’ll be able to pluck yourself a spa experience. Maria Finn, author of A Little Piece of Earth, suggests growing lemon verbena. Pick two sprigs, chop, mix with 1 cup of sea salt, let sit for two weeks or more, and you have fragrant bath salts. For more instant gratification, plant an herbal-tea garden of chamomile, bergamot and lavender. Pick a few flowers and leaves, rub to release essential oils and steep in boiling water for two to five minutes. 

Health and Wellness With Dr. Oz

Do you ever wish your best friend was a doctor who would answer any question about dieting and exercise, from losing 5 pounds to whether pricey antioxidants are really necessary? We chatted with successful heart surgeon and TV expert Dr. Mehmet Oz, and that is exactly what we discussed.

According to Dr. Oz, you need to look at the excess sugar in your diet if you want to lose weight. “You should not think that fat comes from fat -- it doesn’t,” says Dr. Oz. “The fat comes from all the foods you eat being metabolized by your liver. If there is an excess calorie, the liver will purposely store it as fat, and that’s historically what our ancestors needed to do to weather the storms of famine.”

If you are trying to trim down, don’t skip meals to make up for bingeing. According to Dr. Oz, you can’t outsmart your body. “Remember the body is not looking for calories, it’s looking for nutrients. So if you eat foods with no nutrients but lots of calories, your body is going to want you to keep eating. Whereas if you eat foods that are wholesome, you actually will be getting nutrients, and the body will therefore stop insisting on more calories.”

If health claims for pricey new foods or drinks tempt you, follow the doctor’s sensible advice: “There are a lot great exotic fruits and foods out there. I think antioxidant juices are a worthy contribution to our food supply -- just make sure they don’t have too much sugar in them.”

Fundamentally, what you want is a diet that consists of whole foods, or foods that come out of the ground looking the way they look when you eat them. They are found in the outside aisles of the supermarket, and you get the fiber along with the juice.”

To lose weight and keep it off, exercise is essential -- and not just cardio. Dr. Oz’s two-pronged approach includes some type of resistance training: “Pilates, yoga -- but I’m not talking about running,” says. Dr. Oz. “I’m not talking about aerobics exercise, exercise that builds muscle. Combine that with cutting out the white foods, including white rice, white pasta, white sugar, white flour. That will almost always give sustained weight reduction.”

While many women worry that a slow metabolism can make losing weight difficult, exercise can help speed up or maintain your metabolism. “If you don’t have any muscle, you’re not going to generate metabolism. And sometimes hormonal shifts like low thyroid levels will drop your metabolism. But there are things you can do to raise your metabolism.” This includes drinking caffeine, which is why caffeinated beverages are often a valuable asset if you are on a diet program, as well as aerobic exercise. When you run, you change the way the blood vessels function and respond, and that seems to affect your metabolism as well.

In addition to diet and exercise, Dr. Oz says that whatever you do, get enough sleep. Not meeting your basic drives in life -- sleep, sex, food and water -- can lead to weight gain. “The brain has four satiety centers,” he says. “You can crave sleep, sex, water and food. If you don’t sleep, you’re going to crave carbohydrates, and that will actually change your ability to resist eating foods that we know add fat.”

There you have it -- practical and personal advice, according to Dr. Oz.