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Body Suspension Gains Visibility In Pop Culture

Kristi Pahr Published On: 13-03-2017
Body Suspension Gains Visibility In Pop Culture

When you’re stressed out, how do you relax? Hot bath? Massage? Long walk? Suspended above the ground by hooks through your skin? While it may seem strange, many people do just that. It’s called body suspension and it’s a real thing. People do it. On purpose. And enjoy it.

Imagine body piercing, then imagine the most extreme body piercing ever. Then go one step beyond that and you've got suspension!

A red haired, tattooed woman with hooks through her flesh, being suspended

Source: tumblr

The International Suspension Alliance defines body suspension as "...hanging the human body from (or partially from) hooks pierced through the flesh in various places around the body.” The piercings are usually temporary, placed just before the suspension begins and removed afterward.

The suspension itself typically doesn’t last long, although some participants may choose to remain suspended for extended periods of time, while others come down after just minutes.

There is no one reason people perform suspension. Some folks find it relaxing, providing a huge release of built-up stress and tension. For others, it’s an epic adrenaline rush.

Some people even claim it helps them reach a state that is meditative or euphoric, while other people undergo suspension to conquer fear, have a spiritual experience, or prove something to themselves. Perhaps it's the age-old idea of mind over matter, especially when it comes to pain.

Whatever the Motivation, There's No Denying That Body Suspension Is Divisive

A woman practices body suspension, with hooks through the flesh of her back, being suspended from the ceiling

Image source:

Detractors and critics have been known to liken suspension to torture and body modification in general to self-mutilation. Advocates and practitioners, however, acknowledge the powerful effects of suspension and say it’s not unlike meditation or the endorphin release that comes from exercise.

Suspension has its roots in both Hindu and Native American cultures, and has been performed ritualistically by these groups for millennia. The Okipa ceremony, a piercing and suspension ritual performed as part of a coming of age ceremony by the Mandan Tribe of North Dakota, was first witnessed by non-indigenous people when painter George Catlin, who was travelling west with the Lewis and Clark expedition viewed and later committed to it canvas in 1832. This painting, entitled "The Cutting Scene, Mandan O-kee-pa Ceremony," gave the public at large its first glimpse of tribal ritual body suspension. 


The Cutting Scene, Mandan-O-kee-pa Ceremony depicts the first scene of body suspension witnessed by non-indigenous people

Source: Wikimedia commons

Body Suspension in Modern Culture

In modern times, suspension has been performed privately and in niche venues for decades, developing a devoted following among extreme piercers and body modifiers. There’s even a convention.

Suspension has recently become more visible, thanks in large part to Dave Navarro and his suspension during the live season finale of Ink Master Season 8. Navarro, arguably the most famous suspension practitioner, first became interested in suspension in the early 90s after following the work of Fakir Musafar and his Modern Primitive movement. When he was finally hung, close to two decades later, he had this to say in an interview with the International Suspension Alliance:

All I can say is that I got something out of the experience that transcends words. I had asked many artists in the past, “What’s that feel like?” I now understand the look I’d get as they searched for the right words to explain… Sometimes even a subtle look of annoyance as they knew they really couldn’t. For me, it was the following: Calm, spiritual, still, trust, love, passion, ecstasy, clarity, adrenaline, God, invigoration, vision, light and dark… Just to scratch the surface. Nothing bad ass, nothing daring, nothing experimental. Nothing of what I expected. So much more than I could have imagined.

Navarro has since become one of the most visible suspension practitioners ever, even bringing the art to live primetime television in this epic display last year:

It's All About Placement

There are several types of suspension, each dependent on different hook placements and body geometry, and it’s up to the rigging crew, referred to as suspension artists, to know best how and where to place hooks. Prior to rigging, the skin is aseptically prepped then pierced with a standard piercing needle.

Hooks are then weaved through the holes left by the piercing needle and thin ropes are attached, allowing the person to be suspended for as long as they feel comfortable, sometimes as long as 4 and 5 hours. According to suspension experts, the wounds heal quickly and each suspension requires fresh piercings. The piercings, as with any piercings, can be painful and there is always a risk of infection.

Leigh Raven of Anchors Aweigh practises the art of body suspension,, with multiple hooks piercing her skin

image source: Anchors Aweigh

The end result is different for everyone. Whether it be a sense of deep peace and oneness or an adrenaline high like no other, body suspension definitely has a devoted base and, with increasing visibility, is only growing more popular.

For more information on safe body suspension, you can visit The International Suspension Alliance.

What are your thoughts on body suspension? Would you give it a try?

Title Image Source: Anchors Aweigh