Soothing Spaces: Feng Shui for Studios


By Mary Mihaly  |  

For Carol Bridges, the design and décor of a yoga studio should reflect the spirit of what will happen in that space. “My ideal would be to make the space glow as if from within,” says the feng shui master, who is based in Nashville, Indiana. “Just as one would like to glow with spiritual light from within as a yoga student.”

Bridges has an exalted goal, perhaps, but the ideal is not as elusive as some teachers might think. The basics of designing a yoga studio as an enriching, soothing space are achievable whether classes are held in a rented storefront, a posh office building, or the student’s living room.

The Basics of Feng Shui
Feng shui—the practice of using the energy (chi) of a space to produce the best possible outcomes within it-tells us that wherever we are, our performance is affected by the energy there. Color, lighting, furnishings, placement, and freedom from dirt and clutter all partner in creating good feng shui.

Because color and lighting surround us in a room, they exert a strong and immediate effect upon us. Debra Perlson-Mishalove, director of Flow Yoga Center in Washington, D.C., chose a soft, squash-yellow color for the walls of her studio, “which seem to glow from the reflection of the sun,” she says. The door is painted in a color she calls “flow green,” and a lounge is “filled with a warm, earth-tone palette accented with vibrant colors.” (View her studio at her website, www.flowyogacenter.com.)

“These choices were not made through the direction of design books,” she adds, “but more through intuition of what would just ‘feel good.’ When I think about my approach to the design, the word ‘harmony’ comes to mind.” Perlson-Mishalove also recommends as much sun exposure as possible, and soft, indirect lighting without harshness or glare.

Clear Away the Clutter!
With some 75 people traipsing into her studio every day, it was imperative that Perlson-Mishalove find a way to store both her supplies and students’ gear in a tidy, organized way. Students’ coats and shoes are placed in a separate area, outside the studio space. “Students arrive after a busy day, they work long hours, they care for their kids, they have stress, and I wanted to present a clean, calm look for people when they come here.”

Her quest for order extends beyond the studio: Perlson-Mishalove tries to lead a “paperless life,” she says, keeping as many records as possible on the computer.

Larry Hatlett, director of Yoga Center of Palo Alto in California, likewise maintains a “separate room with a closed door” for the studio’s office and storage. The studio itself is kept immaculately clean: virtually all of his classes focus on standing poses with no mats, and the floor is mopped before every class and thoroughly cleaned once a week.

Bridges approves of such fastidiousness for both studio and office, which she says “needs to be organized, just as one’s mind needs to be cleared for a good yogic practice.”

A “Yogic Décor”
The Palo Alto center’s décor was inspired by Hatlett’s refined approach to yoga. “I like yoga to be beautiful in its simplicity—not spreading arms really wide, keeping movements as graceful as possible,” he explains, “and my studio reflects that philosophy.”


As at Flow Yoga Center, Palo Alto’s palette is a soft yellow (see www.paloaltoyoga.com) with up-lighting to avoid glare. Like his yoga, the studio, Hatlett says, is “a very simple, uncluttered space promoting the possibility of peace of mind.” The temperature is kept at a comfortable 70 degrees, and the hardwood floor is “sticky—designed specifically for bare feet.”

Perlson-Mishalove’s décor choices reflect not only her yoga, but her life choice as a committed environmentalist. “The name for our studio, Flow, represents our connection to the natural world. Balance, harmony and flow are lessons in yoga that are reinforced at almost every turn when you take time to observe the natural world—leading a yogic way of life completely meshes with leading an environmentally conscious way of life,” she says.

For Perlson-Mishalove, the design of the studio also has a karmic tie-in. “In a way, being environmentally ‘conscious’ is really just being conscious, period—knowing that my actions have an effect on both me and the world around me, and striving to cause the least possible harm to both. For me, that’s practicing ahimsa. Non-harming is essential to the yogi because it creates good karma—and good karma leads to joy and happiness.”

Perlson-Mishalove incorporates her conservationist passion into the studio’s design in every way possible. The floor is of bamboo, one of the most sustainable flooring materials available—her choice over cork because of its durability. Other floors at her business are made of allergen-free marmoleum or are carpeted with natural fibers. Furniture in the office and lobby are either secondhand or purchased from IKEA, which follows environmentally responsible practices.

Toilets are low-flush, and even the sign-up sheets are printed on recycled paper. She offers students organic cookies and teas served in glasses, not paper cups (and she asks students to wash their glasses when empty). Perlson-Mishalove doesn’t even sell water in plastic bottles; students drink filtrated water from glasses, and a filter purifies the studio air.

Perlson-Mishalove acknowledges that designing an eco-friendly studio will likely cost more than other choices, but she considers it a small investment in the planet. “I view it the same way as my choice to eat organic food,” she says. “It’s a bit more expensive, but to me, it’s worth it.”

Designing Tips
In any studio, from no-frills to elegant, these pointers will enhance the energy of the space:

  • The entryway is the most important spot in feng shui; it is where good chi—and good fortunes and opportunities—enter the space. Make the entry attractive and remove all clutter, and be sure the door can open completely without scraping or bumping into anything.
  • “Pictures depicting exquisite yoga postures or spiritual masters would be useful, perhaps in the waiting room if not in the actual studio,” Bridges says. “Consider the area that people walk past numerous times; this would be a prime area for ‘programming’ such actions or achievements by the use of these pictures.”
  • A candle is fine to help students focus, but scents can distract or even trigger allergies. Use unscented candles or incense, and ask students if they mind before class begins.
  • Lastly, Bridges advises, aim for a good balance of yin and yang in your design, one that is compatible with your style of yoga: “Not so dim and peaceful as to put someone to sleep,” she says, “and not so intense as to disrupt a peaceful meditation.”
  • Mary Mihaly is a writer and certified feng shui practitioner based in Cleveland, Ohio. Her writing specialties include travel, health, collecting, and, of course, feng shui.