How do performers put along objects safely down their throats?
Sword swallowing is an extremely dangerous performing art that requires participants to have complete control over many of their body’s voluntary and involuntary reactions, including the gag reflex. While many believe that this art is nothing more than a clever trick or an illusion, the reality is that this pastime is potentially fatal.
Learning to swallow a sword takes many years of careful practice. The act of actually swallowing a sword directly involves a human’s upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This series of organs includes the throat, esophagus and the stomach, and is where the word moves through. This tract is slightly curved, while swords used in this performing art are generally straight, which has to be taken into consideration.
Inside the GI tract are two types of muscle tissue – skeletal and smooth – in addition to a lubricating layer called the mucosa. Skeletal muscles, which govern things such as talking and typing, are controlled voluntary, but smooth muscles are involuntary and they control bodily functions like moving food during digestion. A sword swallower must retain complete control over all these muscles to ensure their safety.
Sword swallowing with a pro:
Ten times world champion swords swallower Dan Meyer, president if Sword Swallowing Association International (www.swordswallow.org) and recipient of countless awards relating to his act including five world records and the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine, talks through the step-by-step process of ingesting a blade.
Insertion: The sword swallower tilts the head back, and the blade is inserted into the mouth over the tongue.
Mouth: The sword swallower must then repress the gag reflex in the back of the throat.
Esophagus: The sword swallower opens the epiglottis and finds the proper alignment into the upper esophagus.
Throat: The sword swallower represses the peristalsis reflex, the muscles that cause the throat to contract and swallow.
Chest: While repressing the gag reflex and peristalsis reflex, the blade is inserted into the chest cavity between the lungs.
Heart: Since the esophagus leans and wraps slightly around the heart, the sword blade nudges or displaces the heart a little in order to make a little in order to make a straight path.
Ribcage: The blade is inserted past the ribcage, past the sternum, and through the diaphragm to the lower esophagus. The sword swallower then relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter which seals off the stomach.
Stomach: The sword swallower represses the retch reflex in the stomach, and finally slides the blade past the liver and kidneys down in the bottom to the bottom of the stomach.
Dan Meyer was the first in his profession to swallow a sword while under water.