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Into the Unknown: An Interview with a Body Suspension Practitioner

Into the Unknown: An Interview with a Body Suspension Practitioner

Oslo-native and body suspension practitioner Tor M. Torsetnes, developed an unwavering fascination with the practice after chancing upon Wings of Desire, a world-renowned body suspension group based in Norway. Luring practitioners and adrenaline fiends from across the globe, the organization hosts the annual convention Oslo SusCon and collaborates with a diversity of body mod artists and suspenders to craft dazzling installations, unique performances, and various educational events for the community at large.

Falling in love with the juxtaposition of bodies hanging by sharp hooks in a room that preserved a sense of amicable energy, Torsetnes knew suspension was something he simply had to do. After attending an event and observing those around him, he quickly embraced the practice as his own and has continued to chase his rousing inner fire. For the past five years, Torsetnes has taken a multitude of flights, has become a recognized photographer in the scene, and leads both veteran hookers and newcomers alike through extraordinary experiences.

body suspension
Wings of Desire Crew, Resurrection Suspension

Those who participate in body suspension describe the experience as a means of gaining a higher consciousness and healing. What are your thoughts on this concept?

My impression of the world is that people have all sorts of reasons for doing anything and everything. Transcendent experiences, healing, and exploring the unknown are all reasons I’ve heard before, but there are also themes of curiosity, personal challenges, and sometimes, just plain fun. I do, however, see somewhat of a distinction between the motivation behind someone trying it for the first time versus someone doing it for the ninth time.

When someone tries suspension for the first time, they obviously don’t know exactly what they are getting themselves into in terms of how it’s actually going to feel when they get up into the air. It seems to be some kind of an idea or spark that drives them towards wanting to experience it, but where this spark comes from is highly subjective. When you come down after the first time though, you have definitely experienced something, which may or may not be what you expected or what motivated you in the first place. But maybe that’s the reason someone does it a second time.

As for myself, I didn’t walk into my first body suspension with the thought that it would be an experience I’d describe as healing, but in retrospect, it certainly was.

For people who have done a suspension before, they know to a certain degree, what to expect as far as the process goes and I think it becomes more of a wanting to try something different or challenge yourself in terms of pain threshold. Transcendence is a word that has stuck with me as it’s very descriptive for several of my experiences. I’ve gotten rigged like a motive from an album cover, then listened to that entire album from my earbuds while hanging. It was very intense, shifting, disharmonic music, and I thought it would be interesting to see how I reacted to it. It was my own little performance piece by myself, for myself, within myself. But I’ve also just had fun thrashing around on a rotational rig with a friend hanging on the other side of the same rig for laughs. 

Can you describe your very first experience with hooks and what led you into body suspension?

I kind of accidentally stumbled upon it when I first moved to Oslo. It was a bit of a weird time for me—temporary living arrangements, new city, not much of a contact network. I was starting my first proper job, spending a lot of time alone going to concerts, and finding things to fill my time. Then I came across the website for Wings of Desire and seeing that this was something I could sign up to do where I lived, it ignited a strong curiosity within me. I sent an email and was welcomed to watch since I was interested, but I ended up sitting there the entire day. I signed myself up for the next event the day after. It was just something I had to do without knowing exactly why, but I remember I was drawn to the stark contrast of seeing people hanging from large hooks. They were peaceful and smiling while the room had this certain calmness to it.

hook suspension
Wings of Desire Crew, Suicide Suspension

The act of body suspension can trigger a negative response from society, especially from those who are seeing it for the first time. What is your response to this negativity and where do you think it derives from?

I’m pretty open with what I do and I refuse to be ashamed of it. I’ve even discussed it in job interviews because it is a large part of who I am and how I like to spend my time. If someone has issues with that, they can leave it be or I can spend my time elsewhere. Besides, it’s remarkable how being so blunt about something will surprise someone when they’ve had a certain expectation of you. It throws them off their game.

There is nothing embarrassing in being who you are. If you tell your stories from your heart whenever a relevant subject comes up, my experience is that people will be intrigued rather than judgmental—if you tell it as though you are unashamed of course.

Now, I happen to live in Norway, which is a progressive (and introverted) country where people don’t really care who you are as long as your resume and reputation are good. My approach to the world isn’t necessarily the best approach for someone living in another part of the world. Then again, I’ve been at passport control in New York telling them I am visiting the states for the sole purpose of going to MECCA to hang from hooks, and all I got were more questions about body suspension.

When it comes to body suspension, there is no question that it is a painful experience, but the discomfort is temporary and subsides once adrenaline and endorphins are released into our bodies. As a practitioner, how do you guide first-timers through the process?

I will try to guide people through the process of what’s to come. I will tell them that it will feel a bit cold when I put on the disinfectant. I’ll let them know that I will pinch them hard, and often painfully. I will ask which placement feels good in terms of where I’ll mark the hooks. I’ll ask them how many breaths they want to take before we actually pierce their skin. I’ll ask how the tension on the hooks feel once they are rigged. There are so many questions I ask or would like to ask, but I might skip some of them if I don’t feel it’s necessary. The point is to always put forward an explanation customized to the individual so they are comfortable and know what is about to happen. Lastly, I always ask for confirmation that they’re okay. This also counts during their suspension and aftercare when we take the hooks out, push out the air pockets that might have built up, and bandage up the wounds.

Many individuals express their fears of falling or the hooks tearing the skin. Do you find that moments of intense pain during suspension is more of a mental conflict of uncertainty rather than actual pain itself?

I’ve felt this feeling even after suspending several times. I think the “what if” sort of thinking will naturally occur in every one of us, especially in stressed situations. It’s a peculiar part of consequence thinking. I’ll have the same thoughts when I’m flying. What would happen if there was a failure in the wing and it suddenly broke loose? Needless to say, I’m not always the biggest fan of flying, yet I’ve done it several times. I don’t equate that to the feeling of pain though. It’s more of a situational alert feeling where you go through the parameters of what you are experiencing. 

body suspension
Tor M. Torsetnes, Chaos Cube

Similar to a scene in BDSM, a post-suspension depression or “drop” can occur a day or two after the experience. Talk to me about why this might occur in some people and not in others.

In the suspension community there’s been a term labeled “PSD” or post suspension depression, and honestly, I’ve never liked it. When you are engaging in this community and it’s events, you’ll find yourself locked out of the rest of the world with a bunch of people who are only there to support and guide you through your experience. They are either facilitating the suspension, watching you, or suspending with you. To me, it’s no more than a festival bubble. What I mean is that during some hours or days, you disengage from the rest of the world. You are accepted as who you are (hopefully), experience what you are interested in, and don’t have a single care in the world for a brief moment of time. Coming down from that is always hard because the world reappears. As soon as you leave the premises, the normal world—which you might not like—might hit you hard. It is very difficult to have some absolute opinion on why some are more prone to getting it than others. I think, as with most body suspension experiences, it is very subjective. Also, don’t underestimate that the physical trauma by getting pierced and hanging from hooks will more than likely have an impact on your well-being and neurotransmitters (take runners high for instance). I guess the most important thing is that people know it might cause a drop and that you reach out to someone if you experience it. Cause you know, talking to people usually helps whenever you are a bit down. 

hook suspension
Wings of Desire Crew

What advice or words of encouragement can you provide first-time body suspenders?

If you are nervous and there’s a team close by, ask if you can go and watch before you do it. If you sign up and it’s possible, bring someone you trust if you think it may help as mental support. Bring some sugar—a candy bar or something—and a water bottle or soft drink of your choice if they don’t provide it at the venue. I usually devour half of a candy bar before getting pierced and eat the other half before the elevation happens to get my blood sugar rising. Also, be sure to get a good night’s sleep, stay sober, and have a good breakfast.

Remember that you are always in control of your own experience and no one in the community will think less of you if you don’t find it within yourself to actually get off the ground or at any point, decide not to go any further.

Sure, we’ll encourage you, but it’s always your choice. I’ve never seen anyone shed a tear from getting pierced, and believe me, the crowd I’ve seen has been diverse. I’ve seen a lot of different reactions when people lift off the ground, but it’s always okay. It’s your experience. Being afraid and nervous is perfectly natural. I still get nervous even after having done it multiple times. Body suspension or not, trust yourself. You are capable of much more than you think if you just manage to throw yourself into the unknown.

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