5 Practices that Saved My Sanity in 2020

Andrew O. Dugas
9 min readDec 28, 2020


For me, as for many people, 2020 has been a crazy year.

Before January was over but before the pandemic became a thing in America, my company informed me that my job was disappearing. They offered a deal whereby I could stick around to mop up until the end of March. Of course, by the end of March, January’s thriving job market had dried up completely.

I’m not complaining. I had a generous severance package plus some savings, should the wolf appear at the door. That didn’t keep me from freaking out, as job lead after job lead dried up, as positive interviews were followed up by ghosting, as my wife’s home health job slowly ground to a halt, too.

Beefing up my technical skills helped, but I needed something more to stay sane. I tried watercolor and sketching, which were fun and quite elevating, but they didn’t help me on that deep how-do-I-keep-from-screaming-today level.

Slowly, a few things made their way into my life, one by one, and I can now see how their individual and cumulative effects have been revolutionary. I haven’t felt the urge to scream since. Not once!

Here are the five practices, more or less in the order in which I adopted them.

DISCLAIMER: This article is not a recommendation for anything. Please do your own research before trying out anything I discuss below. Always follow medical precautions and be mindful of any negative results early on. And above all, don’t sue me.

  1. Wim Hof Breathing Method (WHM)

10–15 minutes, daily

Most obvious benefits: Builds lung capacity and strength, derails any actual thinking.

Nutshell: Breathing exercise with three parts: thirty to forty rapid, full-lung, in/out breaths followed immediately by a long-as-possible breath-hold, followed by a long inhalation, held for fifteen seconds. Repeat twice for a total of three rounds.

One day, the YouTube algorithm suggested I might like a certain Wim Hof interview. Why not? I’d heard about the Iceman, but written him off as a freak of genetics. The interview was impressive. Not a freak. An ordinary man who found a way to allow his body do incredible things. He made some big claims, but not without scientific research to back them up. (Though it’s hard to doubt a man who can spend over an hour up to his neck in ice.)

So I tried his breathing method. (Not a big fan of the ice, sorry.) First on YouTube then with his free-to-try app which offers more controls and optional settings.

I quickly became a fan. In those early weeks, the WHM had the effect on my mind that a rag soaked with isopropyl alcohol has on a dirty whiteboard. Wiped that sucker clean. Sometimes I passed out (which Wim warns about), but that’s why you’re supposed to do this lying down or sitting, and not while operating a bulldozer.

That said, I’d go so deep down, I forgot my name, everything about myself.

Which was exactly what I needed.

Long term, that passing-out effect is ancient history, but I still find the WHM is a great way to segue into meditation. (See #2, below.)

Personal Notes: When I first started, I couldn’t ascertain whether I was supposed to inhale through my nose or mouth. Wim was vague, implying nasal was better in one interview and that it didn’t matter in another. In my own experience, I accepted mouth-breathing in the beginning but as my lung capacity and strength grew, I was able to transition to nasal inhalation. (Exhaling always through the mouth, though.)

2. Sitting Meditation

10–20 minutes daily

Not my first drink from this well, but the first time it’s stuck.

For me, meditation was always something I did for a few minutes after yoga practice (when I still had a yoga practice). I’d had brief stints of trying to sit and meditate, but they never lasted. Frankly, if I hadn’t been laid off for four months, I’m not sure I could have gotten it going. It took me some effort to build up the meditation momentum, and really, I have to credit the WHM (see above), which in the early weeks left my mind so blank a slate, it was easy to just segue into a prolonged sitting meditation.

My wife thinks I cheat at meditation because I use binaural beats on headphones to coax my brainwaves into the meditative theta frequency. In my defense, I suffer from tinnitus and the low drone of the wave generator helps mask it.

I wish I could spend more time in meditation, but my new job is pretty demanding.

3. Microdosing

One day on, two days off

Perceived benefit: Improved mood, emotional balance, and inner peace.

Due to the questionable legal status of this practice, I’m taking the Fifth. Remember that DISCLAIMER up top? Now might be a good time to reread it.

That said, I refer the reader to the Fadiman Protocol.

It has been reported (ahem) that by adhering to this practice in an intentional and methodical way, one may become more emotionally and psycho-spiritually in balance. Mood-wise, some may experience a reduced need to struggle with deep lows or exaggerated highs.

I have also heard (ahem) that one may spend way less energy on negative ideation. Even-keeled is the term that comes to mind.

It supposedly helps with creativity. I’ve heard that it does not necessarily make one more creative, per se, so much as it clears the obstacles to one’s creativity.

So I’ve heard.

4. Mouthtaping


Perceived benefit: Vastly improved quality of sleep, reduced snoring.

You’ve heard about it. You’ve scoffed. You’ve laughed. “Taping your mouth shut at bedtime? Was that your spouse’s idea?”

I too scoffed and laughed. Not any more.

I’m breathing and sleeping a whole lot better and for longer periods without waking up. And my snoring is greatly improved (which might be why my wife suggested it in the first place).

Okay, it wasn’t my wife. What convinced me was James Nestor’s book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art (Riverhead Books, 2020) and suddenly I was hearing about research. Numbers. No longer some sketchy health freak on YouTube, but bona fide medical studies. Nestor helped too, with his simple recommendation to use a postage-stamp-sized piece of surgical tape smack in the middle.

It took me a bit to make it through the night with the tape in place, but I got used to it with surprising speed. The benefits felt almost immediate. I’ve never been an eight-hour-a-night person. 5 or 6 was the most I could ever manage. That hasn’t changed, except now 6 hours feels like 9. The quality of sleep has improved tenfold. More.

Pro tip: Finding the right tape took some experimentation. Nestor says surgical tape but I couldn’t find anything in Walgreen’s with that specific term on the box. I have settled on 3M Nexcare Gentle Paper Tape, which comes in a dispenser like Scotch tape.

See Nestor’s interview with Dr. Mark Burhenne for more details.

Also: Read Nestor’s book. The underlying idea is that inhaling through the nose is vastly superior for your mental and physical health than mouthbreathing. Get it. Read it. Use it.

5. The Five Tibetan Rites

20–30 minutes a day, five days a week

In brief, the Five Tibetan Rites are a set of esoteric exercises that on the surface look like some sort of abbreviated yoga or workout.

But they are neither.

Their objective is neither to stretch nor strengthen, but to agitate seven vortices located in your body. If you’re comfortable with the idea of chakras, the vortices are not a big stretch. (5 of them match up with 5 of the chakras.)

The book that started this whole thing is The Eye of Revelation: The Ancient Tibetan Rites of Rejuvenation by Peter Kelder (1939). The vortices are described as “psychic centers” that “revolve at great speed. When all are revolving at the same speed the body in is in good health. When one or more of them slow down, old age, loss of power, or senility begin to set in almost immediately.

You can find numerous articles online, plus videos demonstrating the Five Rites online, so I won’t go too deeply into them here. I do recommend getting a specific, recent edition of the original book, ISBN 978–1–60145–419–5, because everyone (including myself, below) tweaks the Rites based on their own experience, and I like being able to compare their tweaks against the original.

Quick warning: When you google the Five Tibetan Rites, you’ll hear a lot of wild claims from the original text. Take these with a grain of salt. Maybe a pound of salt.

For example, one supposed benefit is that your gray hair will gradually return to its original color. I’m about 5 months in and do not see any such effect, and I’m not holding my breath.

All that said, I’ve never felt better in my life.

Here follow my own observations:

  • Work up gradually.

Each Rite is supposed to be performed 21 times (reps). Though not exercise, they can be physically demanding if you are not in shape. (The book recommends losing most excess weight before starting to practice the Rites.) Most references suggest starting with 4 to 6 reps each and working up gradually by adding 2 a week. I needed close to 2 months to work up and I’m 58.

  • They are “rites” not physical exercises.

Some of the Rites resemble yogic stretching, and it may be easy to slip into that groove if you do yoga. I found things went smoother when I rid myself of this preconception; as the book makes clear, it is the movement that matters. The intention is to agitate the vortices, not stretch the spine. (I visualize the vortices as snow globes and the Rites as keeping the snow globes shaken up.)

  • Special note on Rite #3.

No one in any video I’ve watched performs this Rite as described in the text. In brief, the first part of the movement is to “lean forward as far as possible, bending at the waist” but everyone I’ve seen just tips their head forward before doing the back bend (the second part). A footnote in the recommended edition specifically warns against this common error, apparently in vain.

  • Special note on Rite #4

Maybe my arms are short, but I found it helpful to elevate my buttocks slightly by gripping some small barbells, which are hexagonal, so they don’t roll very easily. The book suggests using those pushup grip/handle things some athletes use.

  • Ignore the quaintness.

If you buy the book, you might find it easy to roll your eyes at “Colonel Bradford’s” background story of ageless lamas hidden deep in the Tibetan Himalayas (hints of Shangri-la) and the author’s claims of personally witnessing the Colonel’s miraculous rejuvenation.

As a student of Westernized spiritual literature, the quaint style — kitschiness — of the book is typical of mass market “wisdom of the East” books from the period (1920s-30s).

  • How about some video links anyway?

They are legion on YouTube but here are three that I found especially useful when I was researching the Rites before starting myself:

Dutch guy with adorable, video-bombing young son

73 year-old woman, in case you think you’re too old

Raageshwari Loomba, Indian singer, actress, mindfulness author

  • Though not exercise, the Rites make you more physically fit.

I’m in my late fifties. Not terribly old but I have found myself feeling the years in my bones. Achiness. Stiffness.

And more susceptible to injury. Last year, right before Christmas, I was rushing to a medical appointment when I slipped on some wet metal (street repair stuff). I went down hard on my right shoulder, wanking out some tendon or other, and spent the holidays in a sling. Worse, I strained my left arm because it was now doing all the work.

It took me more than 6 months to recover from all that. 6 months! In my youth, I would have shaken it off in a matter of weeks.

Cut to September. I’ve been doing the Rites for about 8 weeks. Not yet up to 21 reps, but getting there. My wife and I are walking our dog. I veer around some trash bins on the sidewalk and trip on a low wall next to a driveway. It’s December all over again, my shoulder going down, except… Somehow, I suddenly have the reflexes to tuck and roll, even though I hit the ground pretty hard. The pain is not great, but experience tells me that I’m going to feel it in the morning. Morning comes and… Nothing! I’m perfectly fine.

A few weeks later, I had a similar fall (I tend to get lost in conversations and don’t always watch where I’m going) and similar lack of injury.

Had the Rites made me more resistant to injury? More resilient? Had they improved my reflexes?

I can’t say, but I’m personally convinced they had something to do with it.

That’s all. I’m looking forward to maintaining these practices in 2021. If you work with any of these modalities, I would love to here about your experiences.



Andrew O. Dugas

Writer, poet, aspiring human being. Author of Sleepwalking in Paradise. Sender of haiku postcards.