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Learning to Fly: The Magic of Hook Suspension

Learning to Fly: The Magic of Hook Suspension

Throughout our lives, we are exposed to a collection of sensational experiences. There are those that teach us appreciation and awareness, occurrences that fill our hearts with gentle compassion and tenderness. There are those that force us to confront our most challenging sensitivities—sorrow, anger, and angst—and there are those that propel us into the discovery of our deeper selves, an unveiling derived from simply being.

My first hook suspension was one of these experiences, this sort of dark romanticism, a moment in time when I learned to accept, release, and transform, an instant when my fear of ambiguity shifted to a trust in the Universe that everything was exactly as it should be.

There is a kind of freedom that comes from fear, but you must be brave enough to embrace it.

Primitive Nostalgia

Hook suspension has been around for over 5,000 years, a tradition that originated in India as a ceremonial ritual also known as vel kevadi. To demonstrate their devotion to the war god Murugan, Hindus would pierce their flesh with wooden skewers on the chest and back and suspend their bodies from a portable alter adorn in vibrant peacock feathers.

The Mandan Native American Indians who lived along the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota, also performed similar suspensions during the four-day ritual, Okipa. For over 100 years, the tribe suspended young warriors in a rite of passage ceremony that honored both the creation of the natural world and the unity of their bond through self-sacrifice. A tribulation of endurance and stamina, young men engaged in the tormenting sacrament to showcase their courage and evolve into Mandan leaders.

When it comes to modern-day suspension, hooker enthusiasts and body-mod savants look to a man called Fakir Musafar, an artist, shaman, brander, and master piercer acknowledged for his vast studies and personal exploration of indigenous body decoration, artistic spirituality, and self-mutilation. An icon of our body modification culture, he was the founder of the “modern primitive” movement and has co-developed many of the common body piercing techniques we see today.

Photography Internet Archive Non-Profit Library

As a “body play” enthusiast, Musafar found “spiritual nourishment” through his extreme exploits. From hook suspension and hourglass corseting to heavily-weighted piercings and spears through his cheeks, he embraced body modification as a form of self-expression and a means of entering altered states of consciousness. During an interview with Shannon Larratt, founder of the body modification website BMEzine, Musafar said,

By using your body, modifying your body, you can go into states of consciousness and discover the true nature of life and yourself.

Photography Internet Archive Non-Profit Library

And I for one, can agree wholeheartedly. The drive behind the practice of hook suspension varies among each human, but for me, it was the day I returned to myself. It was the day I finally understood the meaning of the words live, feel, and breathe. It was the day I began to unravel pieces of the woman that I was meant to become.

Coming Home

It had been exactly one month since I ended my five-year relationship to a man I was supposed to marry when I found myself sitting alongside my sister in Dave Navarro’s lush yard. I melted into the warm leather padding of the loveseat and focused in on the battle-scarred hookers and graceful Shibari suspenders drift and sway above the rippling pool.

A woman with jet-black hair hung and spun and giggled, her water colored body dyed in polychromatic ink like a stained-glass window. Navarro dangled in a vertical suspension, strumming his guitar in the thick of air. Crimson leaked from the two hooks and wept down his scapular. Another man anchored in a resurrection, carbon steel entwined through the delicate skin of his ribcage and torso. I was seduced by their courage, their passion for these untamed pursuits. My curiosity soared like their hovering bodies and something within me pined for this experience.

Photography Alexander Von Mcqueen

When I made the decision to explore hook suspension, the motive was very clear to me. It served as my own rite of passage, a birth, an awakening, an intimate ritual with myself that would mark an important stage in my life because I was evolving. I had finally detached from a relationship that no longer served me, one I gradually outgrew for weeks, months, years even.

My entire life at the time, this relationship was the only love I had ever really known, but as I became absorbed in the comfort of our habitual ways and my cultural expectations to tie the knot and have children, I realized that my body and mind had been running on auto pilot. This wasn’t love; it was a habit. I yearned to approach life differently and all I had to do was stop convincing myself to stay, acknowledge my heart, and walk away. I was ready for a new kind of existence, one that would allow me to reveal my true self without heartache, without shame, and with all of my wild in tact.

My hook suspension was an act of self-love. It was a vow to myself that I would connect with my spirit, take off my mask, and open myself up to the world.

It was a promise to myself that I would be vulnerable and uniquely me because the only person’s acceptance that I needed was my own. It was a gesture of bravery, that I would do the things that illuminated my soul from the inside out, that I would unfold and grow and rise higher like the limbs of my floating body.

Photography Alexander Von Mcqueen

Sentiments & Sensations

Though the scars on the flesh of my back have gradually faded since the summer of 2018, the memory of my hook suspension is written on my heart like a well-kept secret. I am hopelessly in love with memories and I can summon every single detail from that day—the stench of charred beef, the darkly psychedelic sounds of Bleib Modern resonating throughout the whispering trees, the kind voices of newfound friends and strangers consoling me with sincere adoration. I am a hoarder of reflections and stories, gathering them and weaving the beautiful intricacies into the crevasses of my bones.

After teetering with the idea of hook suspension for a couple of weeks, I knew I had to mentally and physically prepare for such an intense experience. I was fortunate to fly with Embrace Chaos Suspensions, a group of talented suspension artists that facilitate a plethora of life-changing experiences and events in the Los Angeles area. Not only was I able to have many in-depth conversations about the ways in which I should lay the groundwork for the flight, but I was also provided with the opportunity to explore play piercing and allow my body to become familiar with new sensations. It was my initial lead into needle play, a kind of play taught me how to control my mind and be in harmony with my body.

Photography Chad Michael Ward

The sensations of hook suspension are unlike anything I have ever felt before, and to my surprise, not as painful as I had anticipated. The overall process is lengthy, yet very gentle and it is done with a great deal of care and precision—from sterilization and proper placement to the gauge of hooks and weight distribution. As I rested on the table and awaited my first set of piercings I silently repeated my mantra:

I embrace each challenge as an opportunity to grow. I release myself from my past and let go of negative experiences. Today I make peace with myself and begin to live in the present moment.

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The initial punctures were done with an eight-gauge straight piercing needle. The sensation was profound, but brief. I felt a mass of pressure throughout my upper back where the hooks were being placed, but my body was in a very tranquil state. I was so entirely ready for the experience that I do not recall too much pain during this moment. I found myself slightly startled by the popping sound of steel penetrating through layers of my skin, but that is more mental. I am fairly certain that the pulling and tugging of my flesh was far worse. The biggest challenge, however, was climbing into the float and actually flying.

Photography Alexander Von Mcqueen

Flying

Climbing into the float and getting my body situated was probably the most difficult and excruciating part of the experience. With each movement I could feel my skin stretch and lengthen away from my body like a rubber band. In that instant I came to grips with the intensity of being pulled by the suspension rig and what I had actually gotten myself into—the burning heat, the dragging and acute stinging pain. I was panic-stricken.

There was a fleeting moment when I doubted my ability to see the experience through. I mistrusted my flesh to withstand the weight and questioned whether or not my emotional and physical self was stable enough to remain brave and centered. But as I began to heighten, the pain parted from my limbs like particles of dust and the discomfort was subdued in a stir of adrenaline and endorphins. After just a couple of minutes, that pain morphed into this euphoric floating sensation and my fear became replaced with the eagerness to let go and fly.

Photography Alexander Von Mcqueen

After about 11 minutes, I was fully hoisted into the air and all of my weight was being supported by four fish hooks placed across my upper back. Steadily elevating above the sparkling water, I twirled and whirled like a levitating ballerina and repeated the mantra once more, but this time out loud.

I was smiling, breathing, being. I was evolving with each rhythmic breath like the ebb and flow of seasonal tides. I was flying.

Photography Alexander Von Mcqueen

Coming Down

One of the most important things I learned from this experience is that it is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. It takes some time to fathom the fact that your body can actually hang from just a few hooks, but you must go into a suspension with an open and trusting mindset, knowing that you are in complete control of the experience. Sitting with myself prior to the suspension to really understand my motive behind wanting to suspend and repeating my personal mantra was monumental in getting through it.

Remember, we become our thoughts and fear is a magic killer, a mind fuck, a destroyer of life and its many miracles.

The aftermath of the suspension was not easy by any means. I didn’t feel the hooks being extracted from my flesh, but the wounds were incredibly tender. During a suspension, it is a common occurrence for excess air to make way under the skin around the exit wounds. If it is not pressed out during aftercare, an individual may endure something hookers call “rice crispies”, a strange crackling sound from the leftover air bubbles. Fortunately, I did not encounter this misfortune, but I did experience post-suspension depression, a feeling that parallels sub drop and is typically caused by a chemical withdrawal from the high levels of endorphins. Thankfully, I had lovely humans check in on me and the anxiety and sadness I felt quickly diminished.

Many individuals have asked about scars, but mine have disappeared over time. They were very small and resembled the marks of cured acne. I was proud of my scars and every now and then, I find myself grieving them. They were a reminder of my courage, a reminder that I have the strength to push my mind and body beyond their limits, a reminder that I have the freedom to wander and explore my inner desires, a reminder of my journey of becoming.

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