Suspension

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Suspension is a ritual, ordeal, form of body play, or rite where a person hangs from flesh hooks put through (normally) temporary piercings.

While it may seem strange, it should be noted that suspension routinely changes people's lives for the positive — and occasionally negatively.

Contents

Types of Suspension

Some of the more common types of suspension are:

There are many more possible placements of hooks for suspension, usually combinations of placements used in some of the above suspensions (such as hooks in the back or chest, and also in the knees). In fact, several people have even tried an "ass suspension".

There are also bondage suspensions that don't involve piercing at all, as well as scrotal suspension which also does not involve piercing.

There are also private and public suspensions. Private suspensions are typically done for the sake of the person suspending, whereas public suspensions are done for the sake of the audience. Normally, private suspensions are done for some form of spirituality or personal insight, whereas public suspension is primarily entertainment and recreation. Of course, the distinction is not entirely clear in all circumstances.

With private suspensions, the focus is primarily on the energy the suspendee creates. It allows for a very enriching meditation without the distractions of money and audience or even just trying to explain or justify why you are suspending.

Multiple people may suspend on devices such as spinning beams, or even mobiles.

Preparing

Only you know if you are ready. Suspension readiness is much more of mental state than physical. As with any form of body modification, one must make the decision based on personal experience and research. At the same time, no amount of research or even watching suspensions in person can really prepare you for the feeling of suspension (but it sure helps).

Take a long, hard look at the experiences of others—especially the "failures" and negative experiences. Ask yourself why it is worth it to you to face these outcomes and whether or not simply trying would satisfy you. If you can seriously say that it is worth it to simply try, then wait and think about it more. A good test of whether anything in life is something you really want and are ready for is if you can stand to wait to have it. Infatuation fades, but a serious commitment will withstand the wait and only strengthen your resolve.

Ultimately, you'll know when it's the right time, but don't be surprised if you still find yourself overwhelmed with fear. This fear will disappear if you accept it and let it pass through you—resist it and your suspension will not be a pleasant one as you will not be open to the experience beyond your resistance.

Mentally

Traumatic physical experience can bring a lot of mental aspects to the surface, so to speak. There is no way around suspension being traumatic. Regardless of how many times you do it or how 'tough' you are, you are putting your body through an ordeal. This means that your mind (if you are dualist, if not then this should be even more obvious) will be affected. Generally, a suspension is not something that one should be doing when not felling mentally 'well'. That said, some people find that suspending helps bring things into focus. This is not surprising since trauma forces you to focus on the act at the time and that focused state can extend beyond and to other aspects of your life. Of course, it can just as easily make a confused and troubled time worse by adding to the stress you are under.

In any case, to be mentally prepared to suspend, a person must be first and foremost calm, collected, and very sure about their motivations behind suspending. Just as important, they must have complete trust and faith in the people helping them as well as the rigging they are hanging from. The simplest way to achieve this is to research suspension and become heavily involved in the planning of the suspension. This will make it much easier to relax, which is essential—to have a positive experience, you must be in a good state of mind. If you find that you are not, cancel the suspension and do it another day.

Physically

Traumatic physical experience can bring a lot of mental aspects to the surface, so to speak. There is no way around suspension being traumatic. Regardless of how many times you do it or how 'tough' you are, you are putting your body through an ordeal. This means that your mind (if you are dualist, if not then this should be even more obvious) will be affected. Generally, a suspension is not something that one should be doing when not felling mentally 'well'. That said, some people find that suspending helps bring things into focus. This is not surprising since trauma forces you to focus on the act at the time and that focused state can extend beyond and to other aspects of your life. Of course, it can just as easily make a confused and troubled time worse by adding to the stress you are under.

In any case, to be mentally prepared to suspend, a person must be first and foremost calm, collected, and very sure about their motivations behind suspending. Just as importantly, they must have complete trust and faith in the people helping them as well as the rigging they are hanging from. The simplest way to achieve this is to research your suspension and become heavily involved in the planning of the suspension. This will make it much easier to relax, which is essential—to have a positive experience, you must be in a good state of mind. If you find that you are not, cancel the suspension and do it another day.

Spirituality

This is entirely a matter of individual perspective, but realize that if you go in looking for something, you'll probably find something else. Suspension tends to give a person what they need, not what they want. Sometimes they are the same thing, but more often they are not. Trust in your beliefs, but don't attempt to force them on the experience.

State of Mind

There are a number of differing opinions regarding this, but almost everyone agrees that you must be completely centered and positive. If you walk into suspensions frightened, you are far more likely to have a bad experience, and your chances of falling into deep shock are increased. Remember that suspensions are more mental than physical.

What is maximizing the experience? One can approach it completely empty to simply discover the basic face value of the experience or one could supercharge the experience with ritual and symbolism to synergistically promote a desired result or state of mind. At the same time, attempting to adhere to rituals that you don't personally feel strongly about could add a layer of deception to the experience that takes away from it.

To truly maximize suspension or any experience, one must first have a goal in mind. That said, it is also helpful to know just how one will respond to an experience and thus it is worthwhile to go through it at least once without expectations or goals. Finally, realize that like most ecstatic rituals, it is virtually impossible to control the experience. While it can be guided, you can not control the experience, and attempting to do so could lead to unexpected results.

The Experience

On a simplistic level, physically, the experience is a feeling of pulling, burning and pain all at once, but for most people, this physical aspect is "tuned out" very quickly.

Although individual experiences differ greatly, ultimately, the act of suspension can be an euphoric floating sensation. On one end of the spectrum you find people that enter a trance like state, feeling no pain whatsoever, and on the other end you find people that experience extreme pain, nausea and panic attacks. In general, most people enter a shock-induced state of disorientation spiked with moments of pain and euphoria. In Laymen's terms, the act of suspension causes the body/mind to enter a state of shock while being physically positioned and restrained in a floating state.

There are some general commonalities expressed by most suspendees, such as the feeling of intense tugging which gives way to a more relaxed sensation as the body leaves the ground. However, the varied motivations for suspending make it such that different people have different experiences. As with much of life, you get out of it what you put in to it, and your expectations will often become self-fulfilling prophecies. Some people find it boring, others are changed forever, and some don't ever even think about it beyond simply performing the act. Many find that, good or bad, it is not what they expected.

Many people feel intensely at peace while suspended; an experience of complete surrender. They enter a state of hyper-awareness and deep trust in themselves and the universe. Almost everyone agrees that the hooks are painful, but some people find the sensation of tension on the skin moving and inspiring.

For some people, the experience is much lighter; they just want to try it, and when they do they get no emotional release and find themselves smiling and just enjoying the feeling of flying.

Where spirituality is concerned, there is nothing necessarily spiritual about suspending, but, like fasting, psychedelic drug use and many other activities, it can be used and play a major role in a person's spiritual and religious life.

Procedure

Suspension hooks are often deep-sea fishing hooks with the barbs carefully removed. They are then put through traditional, albeit deep, needle piercings at various points in the body. The exact placement of the piercings and hooks determines the type of suspension being performed. The number of hooks installed is usually dependent on a person's weight and their level of experience.

To reiterate, the actual piercings from which a person suspends are not made with the hooks themselves, but rather with standard piercing needles. That said, no rule is absolute, and sometimes people do use the hooks to pierce with, especially in a performance or in a heavy ritualized context.

The hooks are then rigged with rope or chain and attached to a suspension rig in such a way that weight is evenly distributed over each hook. The person is then winched into the air, where they hang from the hooks. The length of the suspension is largely determined by the experience level of the suspendee and his/her desires, but can last anywhere from a few minutes to hours.

Sometimes, especially for beginners, not all of the points of suspension are held using hooks. For example, in a superman suspension, the legs or head might be supported using a strap of rope rather than with hooks through the skin.

Healing and Aftercare

The faster hooks come out, the less they hurt. Sometimes, the dried blood is removed from around the wounds, although most people don't feel the extraction even with crust still attached. The air should be 'burped' out via massage—though some people actually prefer to leave the air in. Finally, clean the wound and apply a sterile dressing.

After about 24 hours, the wounds should create a hard scab. General monitoring and basic hygiene—a normal routine of personal cleaning that you should be doing anyway—is more than enough.

Longterm (Mental) Health Issues

Prepare for both the possibility of being overwhelmed and underwhelmed. Many people report not getting what they expected but still becoming 'addicted' to the experience. A suspension can be a life changing experience in that the individual will be attaining a feat that, to many, might seem impossible. Then again, you might just hang from hooks.

It is an extraordinary experience to be suspended, and once you are back on the ground, you will be high from the experience. This can last anywhere from a day or two to a week, but at some point, there is the coming down, and it is inevitable that this will happen. For many, an awakening may have occurred and when you come down from the initial high you may be out of sync with a reality that was opened while suspending versus the reality we all share. There are no grave dangers afterwards when performed in the right settings, and if you find yourself feeling really down after suspending, it would be wise to share your feelings with others experienced in suspension.

Finally, it should be noted that due to the complexity and somewhat overwhelming task of interpreting the experience, you may not feel the spiritual or psychological effect until weeks afterwards when it hits you like a ton of bricks. In addition, understand that the normal rules of time may not apply—don't be surprised when and if a fifteen second suspension gives you what seems like hours and hours of experience to interpret.

History

Historically, suspensions have been performed as rites of passage, vision quests, healing rituals, penance, rituals of deity devotion or as means to gain visions by leaving the body and/or communication with the spiritual realm. They have been used for testing the endurance of the mind and body, or even just to freak people out. Most notably, some Native American tribes and different sects of the Hindu religion have used suspension-like rituals. Although other cultures may have used suspensions ritually, these two are the best documented in that they are still in practice today. Thanks to artists like Stelarc and modern suspension groups like TSD, suspensions are being increasingly used as performance art and even for entertainment.

In modern terms, the most obviously related ritual is pulling, where two or more people play "tug-o-war" against each other with the ropes attached to hooks in their body. This is described later in this FAQ.

As far as traditional rituals that are obviously related, one example is the Native American sun dance where the dancer is pierced in the chest or back, attached to a sacred tree ,and then pulls and dances until the piercing rips free. Another example would be the Hindu Kavadi bearing where devotees wear cages of spears/hooks or pull religious effigies by hooks in their skin. Others still would include cheek skewering and ball dancing (where small weights are sewed or hooked to the skin and slowly tear out over extended dancing).

As far as rituals that are peripherally related, very often fasting, sweat lodges, energy circle drumming, abstinence, sleep deprivation, and other practices are combined with suspension—quite likely enhancing the odds of a 'spiritual' experience.

These rituals were built on the foundations of their cultures, and to truly understand them, one must understand the culture first, and then the ritual. In general, these rituals formed a powerful element of these culture's spiritual and cultural life.

Popular References

The following movies have featured suspension in them:

Local TV

Many suspension groups have been approached by local TV to film their suspensions and you maybe too. Be aware that many TV shows will outright lie to you about the content and direction of a show in order to get what they want from you. Have everything firmly established and in writing before committing, and consider approaching people who have had experience dealing with the media to help you. Reputable productions do not balk at such requests and should have a budget capable of at least off-setting some, if not all, of your costs. Keep in mind that the TV crew is primarily there to 'get the shot,' and as such your personal safety and comfort are secondary to them. This is almost exclusively a public suspension situation. As a general note, suspending for TV is not a good motivation to suspend unless you are actively trying to work professionally as a suspension artist or part of a group that performs publicly. It presents a number of additional hassles and the notoriety, if any, will be fleeting compared with the effort and expense.

In addition, you must ensure that you will be able to have complete control over rigging—never compromise safety in trade for a good shot. You will also need to make sure that the television crew respects your aseptic set up and dirty zones, and that anyone in the area understands all the rules of cross contamination control. Finally, be aware that the media loves to present suspension as sideshow.

References

Much of the information in this article was assimilated from the BME Suspension FAQ, which was originally maintained and edited by Shannon Larratt of BME, but the content of it has been collaboratively written by a number of people including:

The FAQ had since been moved to the BME encyclopedia and is collectively maintained by BME members.

Related Risks

People suffering from high (or low) blood pressure, heart conditions, epilepsy, diabetes, immune deficiency, hepatitis, blood clotting problems, and individuals that have experienced multiple states of extreme shock should seek the advice of their physician before suspending. If you suffer from any medical conditions, it is essential that the people helping you are entirely aware of them. If you are approaching a suspension team to help you suspend, you MUST inform them fully of your health.

Working in an environment where the temperature can be controlled, with plenty of juice and water as well as a trained medical personal on staff will greatly reduce chances of shock (and greatly reduce the risk if it does happen).

See Also

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