Take a cue from the South Koreans, and just hit mung. Do so, over some coffee and cake.
What’s mung, you ask? Mung (pronounced nh-yo-g) is a catchy, slang phrase that doesn’t quite have an English translation, but the essence is: Space out, but with commitment. And, if you can, do so with Nature. The idea took shape just before the pandemic. It became a trend later, where stressed out South Koreans actively looked for places to just sit and watch the clouds and trees. It’s a comforting way to de-stress themselves.
The rules were simple: Switch off your phone. Take off your shoes, and sit in front of a long window. Look at the greenery around you. You can even enjoy a cup of tea if you like. The idea is to just heal in the nothingness; let your mind wander without judgment. If it’s with Nature, that’s even better.
There were wide variations of such a space. For instance, as the US-based news site Washington Post quoted, in Jeju, in a coffee house, a specific area was designated for people to spend time alone. You get stationery, so you can write letters to yourself over coffee and dessert.
Another café in Busan had a ‘fire mung’ area, where people just stared at a video projection of a campfire. On Ganghwa Island, off South Korea’s west coast, a café called Mung Hit came into existence. In one particular section, you could just sit on a chair, face a mirror, for anyone who wants to sit and stare. Reflect, literally.
The concept became so popular that the country premiered a film simulating a 40-minute plane ride above and through clouds. And so, people just paid to watch fluffy clouds, while letting their mind wander. Fire Mung was another film that released, where people just watched 31 minutes of a burning campfire.
As a Korean café owner summarised to the Washington Post in 2021, mung means emptying your heart and brain so that you can fill them with new ideas and thoughts.
‘Pause your world just for those few minutes’
Pause. And watch the clouds.
We have an intrinsic drive to connect with Nature; it’s ingrained in us, explains Christine Shaw, a Canadian Dubai-based counseling psychologist. Moreover, decades of research and studies have shown the power that Nature can have over our cognitive abilities as well as our mental health. Being exposed to natural environments improve your working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentive memory, she says. And, it’s also a stress-buster. Once you spend time in Nature, the body triggers a physiological response, which reduces the stress levels.
This is the idea behind ‘forest bathing’, which is an established practice, as compared to mung. Here, you actively engage with Nature, adds Shaw. However, mung is different as you can seek it anywhere; sometimes just by looking out of the window and watching the trees. It is linked to the attention restoration theory, which states that natural stimuli can help restore all resources that get depleted in exhausting environments, adds Shaw. When you watch trees, or listen to wind rustling branches, or even gaze at a campfire, you can hit mung.
Why do we need to hit mung? “It is a meditative experience. This state helps to quieten the mind, and we get more in touch with our internal world. It’s a deeply reflective practice that allows us to look at stressful situations with a renewed vigour,” she explains. “It’s almost like just pausing your world for those 30 to 40 minutes. If you constantly ‘hit mung’, you can reduce the frequent ruminations of negative thoughts and refocus your mind,” she explains. This is particularly useful for people with high-pressure jobs, bustling lives. They’re always overwhelmed by stimuli and distractions.
Watching Nature is a relief for frazzled minds and some sort of a comforting solace for an overworked brain, she explains. Sometimes, just looking at clouds or watching trees from afar, can be just as calming as being next to it. This kind of zoning out can help you refocus your attention, and return to difficult problems and tasks that you might have had trouble with before. “It can actively de-stress you, and you’re more ready to return to regular scheduled programing,” she says. If done right, this could serve as a brain booster, which could trigger the release of dopamine and alleviate anxiety and depression.
This little pause might even give you time to regain some creative insights, as Bushra Khan, a Dubai-based transformational coach at Wellth explains. In this state of stillness, you'll have a better chance of gaining more ideas, she says.
Yet, be warned, this isn’t just simple zoning out: This is zoning out with a purpose.
‘It’s not just random zoning out’
Mung isn’t your ordinary daydreaming: You need to mean it.
Moreover, you need to be committed to hitting mung. It's not just random zoning out and watching birds, says Shaw. It’s a very specific mindful technique that people engage in; you are intentionally investing your time and energy in it. You need to do so without the quandaries of technology; it’s this intention that makes the whole practice so worthwhile, she says.
Nature is all around you, she says. You just need to be aware of it. Even if you spend around 15 minutes just watching a few flowers blowing in the breeze, it will relax your mind, she says.
'Tapping into the default network of the brain'
When we "hit mung", we tap into the default neural network of the brain, explains Anna White, wellness expert at the Dubai-based LightHouse Arabia. As she and Khan explain, in this realm, the mind freely wanders without constraints. "It's the brain's subtle reminder to reboot and recharge," says White. "This downtime, often underestimated in our fast-paced lives, holds the key to unlocking creativity, self-reflection, and enhanced well-being," says White.
The mind becomes a sanctuary where 'aha moments' in problem-solving flourish, providing a mental space for insights and solutions to surface. Sometimes, the best way to find yourself is to get lost in the art of doing nothing...
The mind becomes a sanctuary where 'aha moments' in problem-solving flourish, providing a mental space for insights and solutions to surface, says White. "Sometimes, the best way to find yourself is to get lost in the art of doing nothing," says White.
‘An act of self-care’
You choose calm over chaos, as White explains. It's the rebellious act of reclaiming your time, and telling the world, "Hold on, I need a moment to just be with myself and my thoughts, and maybe a cup of tea."
And this choice is a complete mood booster as the experts say in consensus.
In mung, you return to the brain's default mode. We don't listen to the conscious thoughts. It's like allowing the mind to wander. It's the natural mindset of zoning out and just letting go...
When you hit mung, there’s also a release of endorphins, explains Shaw. While this is uplifting for your mood, you feel as if you’re taking care of yourself, she says. This act of self-care helps you to believe that you are taking care of yourself, and doing a good job at it. “It is a particularly helpful practice for those living in bustling cities or have hectic jobs,” she says.
Explaining how you can do it on your own, she suggests that you just look for a peaceful spot. Switch off your phone and pick something to just watch, and commit to it. If you want, you can also meditate, while listening to the sounds of waterfalls, rainfall, or birds chirping. Focus entirely on the sounds, for just those 30 minutes.