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The things you are about to read should NEVER be attempted,
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Not really a sword to swallow
After a successful lesson, Adam left me with my homework, and any feeling of accomplishment was soon to be squashed by this assignment. The homework quickly proved how challenging learning the talent truly was, despite the physical simplicity of the assigned task. He had begun his teaching by comparing the difficulty of learning sword swallowing to the difficulty of quitting smoking. At that time I cockily thought to myself that I, who wakes before dawn and walks through frigid east coast winter air to practice yoga daily, would have little problem dealing with the “discipline” aspect of learning a new talent. Oh, how wrong I was.
With little actually stopping me from practicing sword swallowing, I was surprisingly capable at finding excuses to avoid carrying out my homework. I would set my alarm 10 minutes earlier, get up in a dark 4:50am room, click on the bathroom lights, and stare at the cold metal coat hanger, ominously waiting next to the sink, all long, and thin, and intimidating. “Stupid coat hanger. You don’t scare me.” Yes it does. Out came the excuses. I frequently told myself that I thought I felt a slight nausea, and didn’t want to push it. “I think I hear my roommate stirring, the gagging will wake her up.” “Oops I already brushed my teeth, I don’t want to have ‘gag’ breath all day.” Or, adversely, “My mouth tastes too gross to do it, I’ll do it after I brush my teeth.” “It’s too cold in this bathroom to swallow a sword.” “I don’t want to be late for the 5am Ganesh puja.” Etcetera, Etcetera. I now knew exactly how easy it is to not quit smoking.
Then there were the real concerns involved. “How early ago did I eat?” Much like a yoga practice, there are some dietary limitations to when you can practice the art. I don’t know if there’s really any more risk to sword swallowing on a full stomach as opposed to an empty one, but it certainly doesn’t feel right. “How will I practice at work? Should I sneak off to the tight, ill-kept bathroom of my all male woodshop (with the exception of myself, and I’m certainly not cleaning up) and awkwardly attempt to swallow a coat hanger as they eat deli food outside the rickety door, or assertively do it in front of them and tell them if they don’t like it they should look away?” Either way they would be hearing sounds neither of us want them to hear. Also, carrying my long, thin wire blade (lest we forget the hooked end) around New York City in my purse, next to my makeup bag, sketchbook, and emergency toiletries seemed somewhat ridiculous and problematic.
When I would muster up the courage or convenience to practice, it would be difficult to get to seven swallows. By the 4th or 5th drop, my throat would be so sensitive it gagged immediately in the attempt. Many times I would swallow only a couple times, forgetting to stay concentrated or mindful, and more just trying to get it over with. I was a far cry from disciplined.
As I reigned in my practicing by cutting out the excuses and allowing time to feel out the sensitivity caused by multiple simultaneous swallows, my abilities shifted quickly. Every morning I was feeling the tip sliding slightly further down, always getting the furthest in on the first drop and then more difficulty with each concurrent one. The first swallow would be almost like a “handout” from the sword swallowing gods, the blade sliding effortlessly into place, sometimes surprising me with the ease. Then comes the inevitable repulsion of that ease, and out goes the coat hanger with a cough and teary eyes. I started having to give disclaimers to the guests of my roommates, “Hey guys, I’m going to be practicing sword swallowing, you might hear some…sounds…coming out of the bathroom. Don’t be alarmed. I’m not bulimic.”
Though still getting serious tingles in my throat and coughing quite a bit throughout, I was beginning to appreciate some of the physical benefits of this morning routine. I noticed with each swallow and gag a significant amount of sticky, thick phlegm that followed from deep within my chest. The sensation was like an extremely satisfying clearing out every morning, and what was once green, thick, and abundant, is now clear, thin, and minimal. This, to me was like an extremely deep version of what Yogi Bhajan recommended to his students, to gag themselves with their toothbrush for the sake of cleaning out phlegm in the throat. It is also most likely serving a similar benefit as the Swami Satchidananda Integral Yoga exercise of swallowing quite a bit of saline solution soaked fabric, only to pull it back out from whence it came.
With some practice I got to what I considered to be a checkpoint, I surpassed the voice box. Adam told me that for some time it would be in the way, a hard lump of a barrier that just doesn’t seem to budge. If you force it, you gag. Then, one day, it decides to give up its hard lumpy fight and budge just a pinch to allow your blade to pass. And when it does move out of the way, it feels like it is moving about two inches out of place. An alarming sensation, it feels like the sword is sliding by a slimy rock attached to tight rubber bands, and then, you have a whole lot of space for continuing the journey in. That is, until you get the gag again.
Then there was the morning I swallowed the entire coat hanger. It was the morning I was leaving for India. I had been practicing regularly by this point, and was ready continue my practice on my journey while searching to buy a sword or two on my travels. I woke up, ran the tool under warm water, prepped the blade by licking the length a few times, and with a big breath in, raised the wire. Exhale, lower. The blade took its first initial ease into my body as it always does. Hits a point where it can’t go any further. And then, with a retching twist of my internal organs, all of a sudden the coat hanger dropped a few more inches. Then a few more. There, in front of my crossed eyes, down the bridge of my nose, was the hook of the coat hanger. Right by my mouth.
Needless to say it did not come out elegantly, and the fear that the experience invoked was enough for one day. Hurray for me, but Jesus. That was horrifying.
These New Old Traditions www.newoldtraditions.com