Body Suspension is on a completely different level than that of your average piercing. The pieces of metal being embedded into your skin aren’t jewelry. They aren’t for adornment.
It’s a tool that uses your flesh as an anchor to support the weight of your body. For some, it can be seen as a fetish or unsightly mutilation. For others, artistic expression. Either way, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
For myself, it’s the highest form of meditation. It’s about being able to cultivate harmony between your physical & mental state in an instant. This requires a great amount of fortitude and a surprisingly robust level of skin-elasticity.
Rewind to June 2014.
I was first suspended with a troupe of professional piercers and riggers, operating under the acronym C.O.R.E. (Constructs of Ritual Evolution). I happened to work with one of the troupe’s coordinators (Lauren) during my day job, and she hooked me up. Both literally and metaphorically. The whole procedure costs from anywhere between $350-$500, and that’s just for materials. The piercers and riggers don’t get paid. They’re there because they’re passionate about the culture and are dedicated to facilitating a safe experience.
The culture has its own lingo for various types of suspending positions. I chose to do a 2-point Back Suspension or commonly referred to as the “Suicide”, as it visually resembles the act of someone who hung themselves.
Hours leading up to the suspension, I was trying to keep my anxiousness in check.
They had picked a beautiful location deep in the Oakland hills, on a short bend off a hiking trail, so the difficulty of the trek helped a little. Upon making it to the site, I caught them finalizing their rigging set-up and I was greeted by the individuals who would be carrying out my initial piercings.
As in, there would be 2 piercers piercing me at the same time, at 2 different locations on my back. Mind you, I had only ever had one person pierce me in one particular spot. Once on my earlobes, which I eventually stretched, another on my septum. Having 2 piercers was brand new to me, so I was stoked.
Laying face-down on the portable massage table they brought, my excitement starts to kick in. They showed me the hooks they would be using and I just laugh.
6G Stainless Steel hooks. Each rated at 150lbs. This is very much industrial grade.
The two piercers assess the skin on my shoulder blade and choose the most elastic part. They both pinch an area roughly 2 inches across and pull the skin out as far as it can stretch.
I take a few slow, deep breaths.
On the last breath out, I exhale slowly and in goes the hooks.
Now, a special thing to note about being pierced by 2 different people are their sheer strengths. On one side, the hook went in clean and exit was clean. The other, entrance was clean but I felt the struggle of it trying to exit. This makes sense because there’s a lot more skin to get through to than your typical ear piercing. The whole time this was happening, I stayed in the moment. My mind was right where they pierced me. I felt every inch of that hook. It was incredible.
At this point, I was given the option to “burn” my hooks in. Burning is the process of pulling on the hooks to relax the skin from the piercing trauma. I have one of the piercers help me burn them in.
I bleed a little. Nothing major.
After taking a few moments to let my body settle, I’m motioned by one of the riggers and piercers to come stand underneath the suspension harness. They secure me in via the hooks and the riggers start to tighten the rope slack.
As they become more taut, I tell the rigger to stop because he’s going way too fast for me to acclimate to this new pain. With my feet still on the ground, they gradually work me up to where I’m only on my tip-toes. I tell them to stop again. By now, I can really feel the hooks in my back supporting my weight but I’m still somewhat supporting myself. I was one word away from completely surrendering all physical control.
It’s in this moment, in this ultimate version of “letting go”, I learned something about myself that I didn’t know before. Everything that didn’t matter, the things that didn’t serve me, the negative things that I held on to and dragged with me everywhere I went, I finally figured out why I did that.
Why was I afraid? For what? For who? It no longer mattered.
In that moment, I had decided that I didn’t want to be shackled by fear anymore, physical or mental. And it was that introspection that moved me to speak the single most freeing thing…
In seconds, the riggers hoisted me into the air. The hooks in my back were now fully suspending my weight. A rush of endorphins plagued me, the most I’ve naturally experienced outside of a sexual climax.
It didn’t take me too long before I got comfortable enough to start swinging around. At one point, I even had the confidence to try to have my brother swing from my feet.
For the next hour, the only feelings that were present in me were happiness, absolute clarity, and excitement. If I could, I would’ve stayed up longer but suspending in itself is a kind of workout. I only asked to be lowered down because I was hungry.
The come down was unparalleled to any drug I’d ever taken. After what felt like flying, having my feet make contact again with the earth had me giddy. And while my first thought was where I wanted to eat, I was already planning when I could go back up again.
Body Suspension is one of things where words, pictures, and videos aren’t enough to describe the experience. You have to be there. You have to suspend. There’s no other way around it.
Prior to even deciding that I wanted to suspend, I read up on other people’s experiences and how “Spiritual” it was for them. Although I consider myself a very spiritual person, it wasn’t the case for me. I didn’t see some higher power nor was I transported to a different dimension. It wasn’t an out-of-body experience where I could see myself from a meta-meta perspective.
At best, I can say is that it was a meditation catalyst for aiding me in becoming the next version of myself. A platform where I could confront the subconscious and break through psychological barriers.
// Writer’s note: If you don’t have a high-tolerance for pain, body suspension is not for you. There are very real risks involved; infection being the smallest to death, being the biggest. Death either by shock or blood loss commonly. Get to know C.O.R.E here; photography by Armand Baclay.