A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Can yogas swallow a cloth and have it come out the (urk) other end?

February 29, 1980

Dear Cecil:

Whilst reading of the yoga practice of swallowing a long strip of cloth and pulling it back up again in order to clean the stomach passage, I was struck with a most intriguing idea. What if one were to feed in enough string to extend from one's mouth to one's posterior, cheek to cheek as it were? Could this be done? What type of string would be best and how long would it have to be? If I attached Dixie cups to each end would I be able to talk to a friend? How much time would it take for it to run its course and could I pull it out of the orifice of my choice? Don't string me along on this one, Cecil, because I'm . . . --Hanging by a Thread in Ravenswood Gardens, Chicago

Dear Hanging:

Dixie cups, eh? The disinterested scientific observer does not have time for Dixie cups. Dixie cups are for meatballs. We'll forget you said it.

The yogic practice you refer to is called dhauti, the washing out of the stomach, and is one of the six purificatory acts prescribed for adherents of hatha yoga. In dhauti you swallow a damp cloth about four inches wide and 15 cubits (25 feet) long, ream out your plumbing with it, and pull it back out. Supposedly this will rid you of unhealthy impurities and cure you of various debilities, including coughs, an enlarged spleen, lymphatic afflictions, and even leprosy.

Another exercise called vasti lets you flush the equipment from the opposite end, by drawing water into the anus through a bamboo tube. This is guaranteed to make you a big hit at the frat house.

The project you describe is more elaborate than either of the preceding. The alimentary canal stretches some 30 feet from cheek to cheek, as you put it.  Most of this is intestine, coiled up intricately in the abdomen.  The view of the Straight Dope Biomedical Research Team is that:  It's possible to coax a string through the stomach and a short distance into the small intestine. Physicians occasionally do just that using the "string test" when looking for intestinal parasites and such. However . . .  You wouldn't get much farther.  Peristalsis, the wavelike series of muscular contractions that normally propels material through the digestive tract, would be ineffective in overcoming all the friction that hauling a string would entail. It would probably just bunch up in your stomach. However . . . It'd be different if you were a cat. Like most carnivores, cats have a much shorter intestine than humans, and have been known to swallow yarn or string and have it come out the other end. Several grim testimonials on this score have been posted on the Straight Dope Message Board. 

If you are genuinely desirous of probing your innards with twine, I can suggest an alternative yogic exercise called sutra neti, which involves a dampened, waxed string that you snort through one nostril. After a few days practice, it is claimed, you should be able to inhale the string with such velocity that you can fish the far end out of your mouth.

With both ends in hand, you can then engage in the practice of gharshana-neti, or string rubbing, which apparently is something like playing the Jew's-harp. Picture it: nasal floss! I guarantee, it'll be a day the gang in the car pool won't soon forget.

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