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. Suspension may require and often has a small group who handle preparations and the process itself. 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. If the number of hooks are too few, the suspended individual's skin will be unable to withstand the body's weight and will rip. When using body areas with fairly strong skin, approximately 2 piercings may be sufficient for some people.
Also, the amount of weight each hook supports must be distributed evenly throughout the entire body — any imbalance risks injury. A block and tackle-like machine made for suspension is used and powerful rope that attaches to the hooks is used to slowly and carefully lift an individual a foot or two off the ground — where they may remain relatively motionless for a predetermined period of time. However, depending on the type of suspension, there may be a considerable degree of freedom of movement.
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.
Historically, suspension rituals were performed by the Mandan tribe, located along the banks of the Missouri River. The Oh-Kee-Pa type of suspension was derived from this ritual. Modern day suspensions are closely related to the artwork of performance artists that use their own bodies as canvases. Roland Loomis was an artist who specialized in suspension and piercing performance pieces, also starting the Modern Primitivism movement. He helped to bring attention to the suspension 'scene' in the United States. Allen Falkner helped to bring suspensions to people who weren't spiritual, as well as a plethora of different and unique suspensions types.
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.
Types of suspensions
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, as a rite of passage for young men, and also practiced by vision seeking Shaman. In respect to the Mandan people the "O-Kee-Pa" name is not used to reference this position.
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 suspendee is lying face up. The name of this position comes from the similar imagery in the movie Coma.
Inverted Knee ("Falkner") This suspension takes place hooked from the knees and hung vertically with the head closest to the ground and the knees at the top. There is no standard for hook placement on this suspension, as it depends almost solely on the anatomy of the suspendee. Many people refer to this as a "Falkner" suspension since Allen Falkner is the first known person to ever attempt this particular configuration. This style is relatively new, but is quickly growing in popularity. It is not considered to be an extremely painful suspension, but the drawbacks include lower back pain and ripping of skin in the areas around the knees. Another factor of this suspension is the increased blood pressure to the brain due to the inverted position, which can lead to disorientation and cause headaches.
A suicide suspension is a suspension in which the hook(s) are placed in the upper back, such that the suspendee 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; it gives the impression of rising from death as the suspendee is curved backwards facing up.
A crucifix suspension is a variation on a suicide suspension in which hooks are also placed in the arms, such that the suspendee 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, such that the suspendee is lying face down. This type of suspension is named superman due to the similarity in appearance to Superman flying.
Other variations exist, utilizing anywhere from one to dozens of hooks. The rebirth suspension is usually performed with 4 to 6 hooks in the back, with the suspendee in the fetal position, face down. Some hang from calves, ankles, knees, or buttocks. Possibilities even include facial suspension. The "Angel" Suspension is eight hooks in the back where the outline of an angel's wings would be.
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