One of my most requested articles was on the topic of Body Suspension. Body Suspension is the process of piercing hooks into the skin, and hanging from those hooks. Under that term is also hook pulls, also known as energy pulls, or flesh pulls. A process of piercing hooks through the skin and pulling against them, often against another person also with hooks in. It’s a practice with a rich and beautiful history for hundreds of years in communities around the globe. It’s also a practice near and dear to my heart, as I have been a practitioner since I was 21 and Body Suspension is a huge part of my life. It should be noted that this article is about my personal experience and opinion of suspension, and doesn’t reflect the views of the entire community nor everyone who suspends. It should also be noted that this article will feature photos of suspension which may include blood. If that is something that is upsetting or triggering for you, I would not read further.
Does it Hurt?
Let’s clear this one, probably the biggest question people want to know. Yes, it hurts! Of course it hurts! But, it is not as painful as you might imagine. A really intense workout, recovering from surgery, having my wisdom teeth removed, and getting my knees tattooed are all experiences that, for me, were way more painful then any suspension I’ve ever done. And the pain is a portion of the experience of suspending. Pain is an intense sensation, and a warning sign. Pain exists to tell our brain something is wrong! This isn’t ok! In suspension, just like in working out or running a marathon, that pain doesn’t mean you are in any harm or danger. Your are just doing something that hurts. Pain and Pleasure are two sides of the same coin, both intense sensations. We view one as positive and one as negative. If you can remove those connotations surrounding those sensations, you can see pain not as painful, but as simply an intense sensation you are experiencing. In that place of intensity, many of us find peace. For me, those first few moments off the ground do hurt, they burn. But as the feelings wash over me they turn into just intensity, and I allow myself to be enveloped in that, and find my body mind and spirit in a place of calmness, of awareness, and of bliss.
If it doesn’t hurt much, what does it feel like?
Everyone experiences suspension differently, and often times every suspension feels different from the last, even if the hooks are in the exact same place. Your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual state can effect how a suspension feels. Who is around you, who your are with, what is happening in your life and in the world can effect how a suspension feels. In general, the piercings feel like body piercings, and are often hot and sharp. The initial feeling of weight or pressure on your hooks can have a burning sensation, and is often called “burning in” the hooks. Once your skin has reached full extension, it’s the feeling of a tight harness, or pressure and tension on the skin in that area. It’s a hard sensation to describe, but it’s worth experiencing at least once in your life.
Why do people do it?
There are as many answers to this as there are people who suspend. As I mentioned above, suspension can be a beautiful powerful experience. For me, suspension has been an empowering, life changing experience. When you are standing there with hooks in, its up to you to choose to lift your feet up off the ground. And that is single handedly one of the hardest choices you will ever make. Not because it hurts, but because your brain is screaming in fear and anxiety. Choosing to lift your feet and fly is also choosing to overcome that fear and anxiety and telling it to fuck off. When your feet do return to the earth, everything is cast in a new light. One of empowerment, of strength. You come down from that suspension and suddenly hard choices in your day too day life aren’t nearly as hard anymore. The choice to eat good food, not to smoke, to leave your shitty partner, to chase your dreams at work, to get clean, to move across the country. They all pale in compassion to the choice to lift your feet off the ground. Suspension had offered me so much self confidence, self worth, inner strength and power. You also learn so much about yourself in suspending. You are laid vulnerable and bare in front of those around you, the rawest and most extreme emotions can be stirred up. Suspension will force you to look at the parts of yourself you’ve kept hidden, and show you exactly who you are when it matters.
Beyond emotional enlightenment, suspension for many has a spiritual and religious element. Suspension has for years been done as a ritual and rite for many different cultures and religious. Suspension absolutely can be a spiritual experience and many describe out of body experiences, speaking with god, connecting with ancestors. For me not every suspension I do is spiritual, but many are and suspending is definitely a part of my spiritual journey.
Some suspend just to prove they can. They want to push their bodies to the edge and over and see exactly how much their body and mind can endure (not dissimilar to how marathon runners and mountain climbers talk about there extreme sports!) They want to be able to say “that thing that seems utterly impossible? Yeah I did that.” Some suspend for fun, because soaring and flying under your own volition can be the most blissful, most magical experience. Because their happy place is with their feet off the ground. Some suspend for entertainment, for a show or an event. The rush of the crowd cheering you on, feeling like superman as you soar and swing. Everyone looking at you in awe and admiration of this wild thing you are doing. Flying for a crowd is an amazing rush. Some suspend for art. To use their own bodies, their own blood and emotions and experience to create profound pieces of performance art, photographs, or videos. To use their bodies to explore concepts of love, hate, life, gender, sexuality, suffering, and many more. Some suspend to feel something. Maybe it’s to replace the pain of chronic illness, to process the loss of a loved one, or to deal with life’s uncertainty. Whatever the reason, the sensation of suspension replaces the other sensations or lack there of, and offers those people some moments of solace and peace. There are a million more reasons why people suspend, but these are some of the reasons I do, and have.
Does it leave scars?
Yes, but for the most part the scars are pretty small and not very noticeable. The scars are just little small dots, that you could easily miss, or mistake for an acne scar. Sometimes they leave larger scars but this is less common, and should you choose to spend you accept that scars are part of the package.
Is it dangerous?
Absolutely. But so is playing football, surfing, sky diving, skiing, rock climbing and car racing. Virtually every sport, every physical activity that pushes our bodies past our limits carries some risk. Broken bones, concussions, cuts, scrapes, bruises. These things come from any and every sport people partake in. Part of signing up to have balls kicked at your face, to hang off the side of cliffs, or the hang from your skin, is to accept that there are real risks to what you are doing, and you accept this risk as part of the process. I’ve personally seen worse injuries at high school wrestling matches then I have seen with suspension. That being said, it is ignorant to pretend there aren’t risks and dangers, and you need to decide if the experience is worth the risk when you choose to suspend.
How does your skin not just rip?
Well, how do you think meat gets processed? Surely you’ve seen photos or videos of meat processing plants, where entire 1 ton cows are hanging by a single hook in their skin. Skin is the largest organ, and it’s incredibly strong and durable. Beyond that, a single well placed and proper hook is rated up to 300lbs! Most suspensions have at least 2 hooks if not more, so 600+ lbs that can safely be supported. That said, sometimes the skin does rip. Usually this happens with hooks through skin that is more fragile (forearms and calves and knees) or if someone is being very aggressive while hanging. Like I mentioned, Suspension carries risks just like any other extreme sport. You have to be ok with those risks. Not everyone who plays football gets a concussion, but some do. Not everyone who suspends has a tear (i personally never have) but some do. It’s all about informed consent, and understanding the risks.
If I want to suspend, how do I go about it?
Much like finding a good piercer or a good tattoo artist: : Do. Your. Research. Research and look into suspension teams in your area. Reach out and ask them questions about sterilization, safety, training and experience. Perhaps arrange to attend one of their meets to see how they work, make sure its safe and you feel safe and comfortable around them. If you do, they will work with you to set up your first suspension, and make it a magical, memorable experience.
Suspension is a beautiful, intimate, and personal experience. It is as intense as it is powerful, as emotional as it is grounding. It will show you who you are, what you are made of, and how far you can go. It’s virtually impossible to leave suspension or a pull without a changed outlook on yourself, the world around you, and your place in it. That is suspensions magic, and what keeps me going back.
Special thanks to Eduardo, Mike, and Orb, without whom I would not have discovered this beautiful medium.