• Jacob Van Zyl



by Dr. Jacob D van Zyl tel 013 752 2000

Practice@37A Ehmkestreet, Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, SA

BLOG (32/5) posted on 2020/04/27 – look out for the next update of this blog in about two weeks to a month’s time

In my previous blog (blog 31/5) regarding the Coronavirus’ impact on mental health issues, I emphasized several psychological areas which might be influenced by the Corona virus. In this blog (32/5), I would like to provide help regarding your coping during the lockdown period by reflecting on life, death, the essence of your breathing and how you can utilize your breathing during this period in time. Confrontation with the phenomenon of death

Recently during the lockdown period, I have been confronted with death in more than one way…

- My wife is a medical doctor who daily shares the worldwide statistics regarding the Corona virus with me, including the amount of deaths of that particular day;

- a close family member of a young patient of mine passed away which left my patient with many intense emotions that we had to start working through during an individual psychotherapy session – the lockdown period hindered him from saying goodbye to his family member before she has passed away;

- and our dear Labrador (which formed an integral part of our family life) had to be put down after thirteen and a half years…


Dr. Paul Brand & Phillip Yancey refer to the importance of breathing in the latest edition (2020) of their book: “Fearfully & Wonderfully” (originally published in 1980): “Oxygen shortage sets in motion a vicious cycle, for the accelerated heartbeat, trying to distribute faster what little oxygen is present, requires even more oxygen... We live, all of us, five or six minutes from death. Existence depends on our access to oxygen, the fuel that keeps our vital fires burning.”

Dr. Brand made mention of the fact that on an average day our lungs expand and contract around 17 000 times, ventilating enough air to fill a medium-size room or blow up several thousand party balloons. Any slight change in effort, such as climbing stairs or running for a bus, can double the demand for oxygen, and an involuntary switch orders a speeded-up rate of breathing. Receptors scattered around the body constantly monitor oxygen and carbon dioxide to determine the ideal rate.”

A case of stop breathing

During his work as a medical doctor in India, Dr. Brand had to rush to Calcutta in order to attend medically to the son of a very rich man. At a stage, during the treatment, the young man himself responded, in two sentences. Apparently he could only say one word per breath, and that was with great effort. Every sound came in a clicking, wheezing, almost choking expulsion of air: “Give…me…breath…” he said, and paused. The doctor leaned closer to hear him over the rhythmic pumping of the iron lung. And the he heard the young man saying: “What…is…the...use…of…money...if…you…can’t…breathe?” Shortly afterwards the patient had died…

Inhaling and Exhaling

Brand & Yancey referred to the English language which describes breathing as a succession of two acts: inspiration and expiration. “I have expired” means I have breathed out; “I have inspired” means I have breathed in. If changed slightly to “I am inspired”, it could mean I am filled with enlivening breath from the artistic muses or, in a religious context, filled with the Holy Spirit – Greek and Hebrew use exactly the same word for the Spirit of God, biological breathing, and even the wind gusts from a storm.

Breath sustains life. Any interruption (of the transport and absorption of oxygen) in the fuel it supplies, causes immediate death.

Try out:

Do not take your breathing for granted. From a mindfulness perspective, I would like to invite you to, at least once a day, take three (3) conscious breaths in a mindful, focused way – not only during the time of the lockdown but for the next year. This is a challenge the author, Eckardt Tolle, directed to a group of clergy in his book “A new earth” in order to assist them to start living a more mindful life. When inhaling (inspiration) and exhaling (expiration), become aware with gratitude of the wonder of breathing which implies that you are alive in the precious here and now of this moment.

From a religious perspective:

“To survive, I must pause to breathe the power of the living God and consciously direct my mind to how God wants me to live. Spiritually, I cannot survive the foreign atmosphere of earth without live contact through the Spirit” dr. Paul Brand mentioned in “Fearfully and Wonderfully”. From a religious perspective, you can take your daily breathing exercise one step further by adding a spiritual dimension, namely to pronounce the name of God with each breath you are exhaling (thrice at least once a day) in order to make an intimate connection with God who created life, the breath within you.

In this way – together with the necessary safety precautions you are taking during the different phases of lockdown – you can find a way to focus rather on an awareness and gratitude of being alive, than becoming stuck in increased mental problems or emotional blockages during this time in age.

Coronavirus is not just threatening our physical health, but our mental health too. Take care of it.

In our next blog, I will focus on another aspect which can help you regarding your coping with the Coronavirus, the consequent lockdown period and mental health issues: walking.

Feel free to send your questions or comments regarding this topic to or contact my rooms at 013 752 2000 to make an appointment.

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