Body Suspension

The history of piercing flesh then pulling against it or hanging from it dates back thousands of years, in such diverse cultures as India, the Middle East, and North America. Cultures that, at that time had no contact with each other, yet felt the same urge and desire to perform these acts. Where in the modern context, flesh hooks and suspension are primarily done for "sideshow" purposes, these early people did it for the most sacred of rituals. We in the modern western world had taken the practice without taking the reason, and in my humble opinion, that is a dangerous thing. When dealing with things of this nature, whether you agree with the beliefs or not, a basic understanding is a necessity before attempting this ritual.

In India, the practice goes back approximately five thousand years, the oldest recorded history of piercing flesh and pulling or hanging from it. This was during a time when body and spirit connections were being explored and the idea of using the body to transcend the body played an important role in spirituality and life. There are two major Hindu festivals that focus on piercing rituals: Thaipusam and Chidi Mari. These two festivals are primarily celebrated by Savite Hindus, who are devotees of Lord Siva, Murugan, and Kali. These Hindus are primarily the Tamil people of Southern India. The Thaipusam and Chidi Mari festivals have been effectively outlawed as public festivals in India and Sri Lanka, but in other parts of Southeast Asia, like Malaysia and Thailand, these festivals flourish today.

The art of Body Suspension is showing some of the regions that performed these rituals, their methods, and the reasons. The process is very delicate and is typically done carefully by an experienced individual or professional of the field in order to avoid serious injury.

The actual act of being suspended may take up a tiny portion of time compared to the time involved in preparation, though some people remain suspended for hours. If carried out properly, the suspendee's body will be studied to decide the proper placement, number, and size of metal hooks which are pierced into the skin to lift the person off the ground. Multiple hooks are usually located around the shoulders, upper arm, and back, as well as around the knees (this depends on the position in which the body is to be suspended). Finding the proper hook placement and number involves a great deal of skill in mathematics and an acute understanding of human anatomy and physiology, as well as the durability of the individual's skin.

Suspensions are sometimes used for meditation supposedly to gain a higher level of spiritual fulfillment or awareness. It can also be used as entertainment or as performance art. Acrobatic actions may be performed, most commonly during a 'suicide' suspension.

There are two main types of rigging: dynamic, and static. Dynamic rigging primarily uses ropes, or something similar, and one long piece is used to connect the suspender to the apparatus. In static rigging, each hook is attached to the apparatus separately. The apparatus is usually rigged to a tree, ceiling, scaffolding, etc. using pulleys, or a winch.

There are a several types, such as:

A chest suspension, sometimes incorrectly referred to as an "O-Kee-Pa", is a suspension in which the hook(s) are placed in the chest. Typically two hooks are used for this type of suspension. This is named after the Okipa ceremony of the Mandan people.

A coma suspension is a suspension in which the hooks are placed in the chest, torso and legs, usually in two rows, such that the suspender is lying face up. The name of this position comes from the similar imagery in the movie Coma.

A knee suspension is a suspension in which the hooks are placed in both knees. There is no standard for hook placement on this suspension, as it depends almost solely on the anatomy of the suspender.

A suicide suspension is a suspension in which the hook(s) are placed in the upper back, such that the suspender is hanging upright. This type of suspension is named suicide due to its similarity in appearance to someone who has hanged him or herself.

A resurrection suspension is a suspension in which the suspended person is held up by hooks, usually in two rows on the belly.

A crucifix suspension is a variation on a suicide suspension in which hooks are also placed in the arms, such that the suspender appears to be hanging on a cross, with his or her arms held out to the side.

A superman suspension is the opposite of a coma suspension - the hooks are placed in the back and legs, usually in two rows. This type of suspension is named superman due to the similarity in appearance to Superman flying.