SARAH ROSSBACH spends only a few hours consulting in a home, but her approach is highly personalized. ``I start at the front door and try to step into my clients' shoes and see what's affecting them,'' says the soft-spoken practitioner of feng shui. ``Some places need to be activated and some places need to be toned down. And it depends on the individual and what their needs are.'' Probably the American most responsible for introducing feng shui to the West, Ms. Rossbach originally trained as a journalist at the Columbia School of Journalism. In Hong Kong on a journalism fellowship, she met Prof. Lin Yun, her Chinese teacher and a master of the Hong Kong branch of feng shui.
Since then, Rossbach has written numerous articles and two books on the art, most recently ``Interior Design with Feng Shui'' (Dutton, 1987). She still works closely with Professor Lin, who now lives in San Francisco.
Today feng shui is practiced in the United States mainly in Asian communities familiar with its concepts and cultural context. But it has also been attracting the attention of architects and designers, who appreciate its simple, common-sense principles.
Rossbach has consulted in New York, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and Washington, working with two to six clients a week. Lin and another of his students, Steven Post, consult on feng shui in the San Francisco area. Last month, a seminar on feng shui was included at a design conference in Minneapolis.
Feng shui is practiced on two levels: the practical and the symbolic. Its purpose is to enhance human ch'i - the life force, or energy, of the body. An environment with good feng shui is supposed to allow people to move safely and gracefully through their daily routines.
As Rossbach explains, if life's daily routines - preparing meals, leaving and entering the house, going to bed at night - involve moving through a cramped and irritating space, a person can feel stress and frustration.
Feng shui elements - including lights or light-refracting objects, living or moving things, musical instruments, and electrical appliances such as stereos, fans or TV - create liveliness and energy. Heavy objects - stones or statues - calm and stabilize a space. In addition, feng shui looks at the different sides of a room as corresponding to the ancient Chinese I Ching ba-gua, an octagon whose sides represent the different aspects of human life.
Rossbach is a key figure in translating this Oriental art into terms that fit in an American context. ``I approach it as a Westerner studying something Chinese. I have an almost anthropological approach,'' she says. But she believes that feng shui values - the need for harmony, comfort, and security in an environment - transcend cultures.
In the post-industrial city of Hong Kong, for example, feng shui began to incorporate more Western elements. It is this version of feng shui that is now being practiced in the United States.
``In Hong Kong, clients are mainstream people - businessmen and bankers,'' she notes. ``Feng shui is not a way of life, but a way to enhance living.''