Pak Zul lies on his back as two CPR-trained men prepare to pierce his abdomen and insert hooks.
They are scrubbed in, and with the sterile gloves, needles and other equipment it looks like a surgical procedure.
He is experiencing a practice called body suspension, where people hang from pierced body parts, sometimes for minutes or even hours at a time.
“For some people it’s more of a ritualistic, healing or spiritual thing,” says the operation leader of the group, who goes by the name Stu Modifies. “We aren’t really a ritual team, but we will do it. So for some people it’s that sort of thing and for other people, like myself, it is a mental preparation.”
People do body suspension for a variety of reasons. Some get involved as a mind-over-matter practice to overcome pain and discomfort. It attracts some people who are into body art and piercings, although Stu says the two are not directly related.
For some it is a pure adrenaline or endorphin rush; for others it’s about conquering one’s fears or trying to reach a new level of spiritual consciousness. In general, people suspend to attain some sort of “experience” according to a Bay Area group called Tactical Arts Suspension Crew, or T.A.S.C., which Stu launched about 18 months ago with his business partner.
For him, it is about knowing that he has endured pain and the pride he gets from knowing he overcame his anxiety about feeling intense pain.
He admits that suspension is dangerous, and warns of side effects that range from scarring to bleeding to death. And he says that people need a lot of training to do it.
But Stu says safety and a sterile environment are utmost concerns as practitioners pursue this ultimate experience.
“Stop fearing the experience, stop fearing the pain, and just experience the pain,” he explains. “For most people that is a scary thing, the ‘average’ or ‘normal’ person would say ‘that is a really screwed up thing to say’, but the reality of it is that it is not some sort of cynical, sadistic, masochistic statement.
“It is just simply saying, you can learn to deal with pain and it doesn’t mean you are enjoying it. Some people do, and that’s not necessarily bad either, I don’t think it’s the hurting they enjoy, it’s the overcoming or the battle wounds and the strength you feel from it.”
On this weekend afternoon, Pak Zul, who prefers not to give his last name, is doing a “resurrection move” for the first time.
Stu inserts the hooks into his skin with precision. They begin to attach pins, lock the hooks onto the line and then raise Pak Zul up by his ribs.
“I am trying to think what it is going to feel like,” Pak Zul says of the resurrection move. “I have done four from my back and my last one was a single-point from my back… that was by far the worst.”
One man hold Pak Zul’s harness and is ready to lift him higher, when he is ready. Stu, a body piercer and body modification artist by trade, has performed more than 100 suspensions in his time and is on hand for safety precautions.
“For this suspension, it’s a lot easier, there is not a lot of people present that are also suspending,” Stu explains. “It will be much simpler for us to control Pak Zul’s bio, to make sure that no bleeding and cross contamination is happening…. He is going to take two hooks in his ribs and bend out as he raises.”
The act of suspension entails hanging the human body from, or partially from hooks pierced through flesh in various places around the body. Large sterile hooks are pierced through chunks of skin to lift a person off the ground using a pulley and rigging.
“It seems like something that is very lax, and something that people just go out and do, but it is not at all,” Stu says. “When you are taking it seriously and you are part of the community it is a very strict standard that we try to hold to, and that’s the purpose of having a larger team.”
All three men present at this suspension are members of T.A.S.C. Stu, a tattoo shop owner, helps educate people about safe suspension practices across the U.S. They have been building this chapter for the past year and a half, and just finally started a team trained to the point that they were comfortable to do performances.
Their first suspension in California was camping in Santa Cruz last August, and they have done about a dozen since then, he said.
Stu said the group has about eight active members and two prospects who are being trained in a number of practices, including CPR.
“And for prospecting there is a certain number of months that you have to come to meetings with the group, and pay your dues,” said the operations leader. “By the third month, if they want to become part of the group they had to have learned at least the bio and clean hands positions.”
The bio and clean hands positions are different jobs members have during a suspension. There is one person who is scrubbed up and they are the only person that is allowed to touch any equipment. For bio, they are the opposite of clean hands, they are the person that gets down and dirty with blood, they will clean and make sure that they are containing all of the bleeding, said Stu.
The history of suspension dates back thousands of years, in various cultures in North America, the Middle East and India. It was practiced in cultures that, at that time, had no contact with each other, yet performed somewhat similar practices.
Most well known are some Native American tribes, and various sects of the Hindu religion. Although other cultures may have used suspensions ritually, these two are the best documented in that they are still in practice today, according to the suspension website.
“It’s as safe as it can be. We have a very large community worldwide; there is conferences held all over the world, yearly,” Stu said.
In April, a conference was held in Dallas, Texas. More than 200 practitioners from all over the world attended, from as far away as Brazil, New Zealand and Italy.
At the conference, members got together and go over safe practices. If two or three incidences happen, the community responds by changing to new equipment that is fail proof, he added.
Suspension needs to be done in a sterile environment,” he said, with experts who know how to perform the acts. It is not for amateurs.
There are certainly risks and side effects. Suspension can lead to death, extreme shock, convulsions, numbness, dizziness, pain, bleeding, loss of consciousness, vomiting, and scarring. Many groups like T.A.S.C. all have what they call ‘Emergency Protocol’ and usually have nurses on hand, Stu said.
“It’s not a weirdo thing, you can look at it that way but we will deny you, and if you come and talk to us and you have some sort of anger thing going on, or you are mad at yourself and you just want to punish yourself, this is not for you,” he said.
“We won’t suspend you. If you are a person who is just trying to do harm to yourself and just put punishment on your body…we are not into that.”