Statistics don’t lie; tattoos and piercings are now firmly embedded in mainstream culture. Roughly 38% of Americans ages 18-40 have at least one tattoo, and 83% of people have had at least one earlobe pierced. Gone are the days when people everywhere gawked at the sight of an eyebrow piercing or full sleeves. We see tattoos and piercings everywhere, so even those who aren’t into mods are fairly desensitized to them.
Basic piercings that have been stretched, piercings in unusual body parts and piercings in high volume might make old ladies frown, but most people do little more than give a brief second glance to someone with extreme piercings now. Split tongues and branded or scarified flesh may draw more stares or occasional gasps—‘Why would you do that to yourself?’ is a question people who have these mods sometimes get—but reactions to even those extreme body modifications are light compared to the average person’s response to the subject of this last installment in our Extreme Body Modifications Series: the art of human suspension.
Suspension involves hanging a person from hooks placed through temporary piercings in different parts of the body that vary depending on the desired suspension position. Ropes are attached to the hooks and typically threaded through a suspension ring that’s securely hung from the ceiling. The rig is setup such that the person can be lifted and lowered by pulling on the opposite end of the ropes. Watch our suspension video below to see what human suspension entails.
Suspension isn’t typically done by hanging people from healed piercings. Instead, the skin is pierced immediately before the person is rigged for suspension and lifted. The suspendee’s piercer will apply antiseptic to the first area where a hook will be placed, pinch a thick portion of skin, pierce it with a heavy-gauge needle, and follow the needle with a suspension hook, such as a Gilson Hook (shown below). The process is repeated until hooks have been placed in all points necessary to attain the desired suspension position. They are removed at the end of the individual’s suspension session.
What Hook Placements Are Used in Human Suspension?
According to Suspension.org, there are 5 basic positions that form the foundation for all other suspension positions:
- Horizontal Face-up Suspension – This position involves placing hooks in the front of the body so it can be suspended horizontal to the ground, with the individual facing the ceiling. It’s known as the coma suspension position because of the suspendee being relatively locked in place in a face-up position, with limited mobility. This position is not recommended for beginners, since seeing the hooks and the skin being stretched upward can be unnerving for some.
- Vertical Chest Suspension – This is one of the most painful positions, because it puts so much strain on the chest and armpits to suspend the body vertical to the ground from hooks in the chest, and the composition can make it difficult to breathe. Some call this position “O-Kee-Pa”, but Since Okipa is the name of an ancient Native American ritual, others consider it almost sacrilegious to use the term as a nickname for vertical chest suspension.
- Vertical Back/Suicide Suspension – In the vertical back position, an individual hangs vertical to the ground from hooks placed on the back side of the body (typically the trunk of the body only, not the limbs). A person suspended this way can have the appearance of someone who’s hung themselves, which is how it got the nickname suicide suspension.
- Horizontal Face-Down/Superman Suspension – To achieve this position, hooks are placed throughout the back side of a person’s body so that s/he can be suspended horizontal to and facing the ground, hence the alternate name, Superman suspension. This was the original favorite position for first-time suspendees, but the Suicide has since taken the lead because it offers more freedom of the limbs.
- Knee or Faulkner Suspension – This position inverts the suspendee, placing their head closest to the ground and suspending their body weight from hooks in the knees. It’s named after Allen Falkner, the first person known to try the position.
People have come up with a variety of creative positions through time, but they’re usually just more complex versions of the standard positions detailed above. For instance, The Angel position shown here is an extended Suicide suspension.
Is Human Suspension a New Type of Extreme Body Modification?
Human suspension is far from a new art. People have been suspending themselves from hooks for thousands of years. Human suspension has been used as everything from an act of penance practiced by worshipers in ancient India to a rite of passage for the Native American Mandan tribe’s warriors-in-training to a means of strengthening the connection of mind, body and soul used by modern Church of Body Modification practitioners.
While the practice may seem extreme to many, it’s survived for several thousand years for a reason: Suspension meets practitioners’ needs, whether those needs are to prove themselves to God or their fellow man, to achieve a heightened state of meditation and spiritual enlightenment, for the adrenaline rush, for the fetish enticement, or simply to bond with others who take enjoyment in the same rituals.
In nearly every incarnation the art of human suspension has had in different times and cultures, it has predominantly been a spiritual act. Indian devotees believed that they could prove progressively higher levels of devotion to their Hindu gods by increasing the severity and intensity of the suspension sessions they engaged in as penance. The Mandan warriors-in-training were strained to their limits during the annual Okipa ceremony, in which they worked for the gods’ approval by intensifying suspension with weights and other stressors that would cause them to lose consciousness. To this day, more suspendees than not come out of each suspension experience saying they’d never felt so relaxed, so at peace, and so in touch with themselves, God or the Universal Soul in spite of any pain they experienced along with that freeing feeling—and often because of the pain.
Human suspension is not gross or gory. It’s not barbaric. It isn’t an extreme extravagance with no value other than the initial adrenaline rush that may inevitably come with it. Suspension is suspenseful, spiritual, and beautiful to the people courageous enough to try it and blessed to feel so enriched by the process that they return to it time and again. Human suspension isn’t for everyone, but if you can set aside your idea of what’s normal for a moment, open your mind, and try something new with your body, you may find out firsthand how enlightening such extreme body modifications can be and how worthy they truly are of your time and consideration.
See more videos like this Rituales de Suspensión human suspension video that was filmed at a February 2014 Painful Pleasures-sponsored event in Santiago, Chile, by visiting our YouTube channel: