Dahn Yoga Alleged to be a Cult

June 24th, 2009

The headline reads “Marin lawyer accuses yoga group of being a cult”.

My very minimal exposure to Dahn Yoga came in Union Square in NYC. I was approached by a ‘student’ urging me to take a free class and handed a brochure as I passed by. A few weeks ago, I passed the same location and noticed a new Yoga studio in it’s place. I remarked to my boyfriend that perhaps Dahn had changed their cover. After all, they have operated under eleven different names including: Dahn Tao Institute, Healing Society, Tao Fellowship, Dahn Hak and even Tao Aerobics.

Dahn Yoga does not elicit warm reactions in the Yoga communities I have flowed through. Worse, organizations like Dahn give Yoga a bad name and frighten away new students from any Yoga practice.

I am not an expert on cults but Rick Ross is and has a page on his site dedicated to Dahn for quite sometime before this lawsuit was reported in SFGate. I have heard that they are very aggressive in their promises to transform all the yuck in our lives into luck and are quick to turn that one free class into a very big hole in your pocket as you become a teacher and then master and then who knows what.

One blog I read called Ilichi Lee, A Fan blog, which can now only be read in Google’s cache because it has since been deleted by it’s owner, claims,

“An Ilchi Lee cult or a Dahn cult are unlikely to exist considering Ilchi Lee and the Dahn Yoga centers he founded have the sole aim of helping many people with a simple mind-body system…”

I do believe Jim Jones had the sole aim of helping many people. David Koresh down in Waco likely aimed to help many people as well.

The problem with groups like Dahn wearing the guise of Yoga is that Yoga is a system of transformation that does help many people. However, it is crucial to study Yoga with discernment. It was a key point in my Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu which had it’s own time and need for collective discernment which caused trauma, upheaval and ultimately healing.

The practice of Yoga encourages us to let down our guards, our barriers, to open our hearts and minds to the wisdom of Sat Guru (Sanskrit for true teacher). I was taught Sat Guru means truth and the only true teacher is within ourselves. Beware gurus on golden thrones, I have blogged that before and it holds true now.

In my own Yoga Community, our first rule is “Do No Harm” as Elysa like to say it or as I proclaim, there is no violence in Yoga; not to your hamstrings, heartstrings, values, morals or ethics.

Maintain discernment wherever you practice and if you detect violence to any part of your being, listen to Sat Guru – your very own truth from within and walk away from that community but that does not mean that all Yoga schools, classes, studios and groups are cults.

14 Responses to “Dahn Yoga Alleged to be a Cult”

  1. Lucie Vogel says:

    I am one of the claimants on the lawsuit filed against Dahn and I think you bring up some interesting points in your post. Specifically the practice of discernment. Ilchi Lee and his students who are acting as the agent of his will commit a very subtle and damaging crime related to the process of personal growth. Personal growth combines the delicate balance of opening to a greater experience of being while discerning what is indeed a healthy opening to make and having the proper tools and training to make this opening skillfully and consciously. When I was 20, I went looking for a yogic practice and ended up in a Dahn Center. I didn’t leave until 7 years later and am still recovering from the experience. I have been practicing Anusara yoga for about 2 years ago which has provided one of many platforms to consider and understand more deeply what happened to me. A Dahn master earns the trust of his or her student over time with calculated effort which includes both introducing the student to opening and a greater sense of being and also slowly influencing the interpretation of the experience. As this trust grows, so does their power to manipulate the process of discernment. More opening, more manipulation. And over time, without realizing, one’s intense desire to grow and evolve gets turned into something the individual would have never intended. Huge sums of money and time. In my case, I became a money making indentured servant for Ilchi Lee. The people who speak positively of Dahn know only what has felt good in the practice and are unable to properly process what is negative in the practice and the organization. What a crime…..to take people to a place of greater opening and then manipulate their interpretation of the opening to then take things from them which are not for the taking. I am not sure the word to use to describe what is stolen….one’s soul? one’s life energy? one’s mind? But regardless of the word, the crime is subtle, invisible in many moments, and is deeply insidious. I hope as the lawsuit unfolds, someone in the yoga community will take interest in the story and produce a more comprehensive analysis of this subtle spiritual crime in the name of yoga to further debunk the group and other perpetrators of this type of behavior.

  2. Jen says:

    Lucie,

    Thank you for sharing your story. There is a great value in wisdom and your first hand account may help others or give others an opportunity to learn before diving in to any practice that takes advantage of a persons vulnerabilities.

    Anusara is a beautiful heart opening practice that not only opens but also empowers the practitioner. I am so glad you have found a Yoga practice that is healthy for you.

    Namaste,
    Jen

  3. DAHN YOGA TRUTH says:

    Lucie’s only goal is to try to ruin the reputation of Dahn Yoga in a frivolous lawsuit along with her friends. Why? Because of their own financial mismanagement with a goal of extortion. Well, the truth will bubble to the top soon and all will learn more about who Lucie really is, what she has been up to a seek money and how manipulative and immature she really is.

  4. Karen Doukas says:

    A Master/Student relationship is very special. All too often many students when things don’t go right look for someone to blame. Responsibility does not occur in one life changing event and illussions. A student relationship should not be based on mutual profit or attachment as those in dahn yoga who have have traveled for spiritual enlightment know. You always must be clear on your intention as a student if you want more from dahn than the physical exercise alone. When one fully expects perfection from the Master than the student is placing responsibility in the Masters hands alone, and that is not the truth of a relationship between Master and Student. I am a dahn yoga instructor. I am a brain and body system trainer. I am a student of dahn yoga. I embrace Eastern philosophy. I have been through good times and bad times in my life and have always been reminded of my responsibility to my family and to myself from Dahn Yoga Masters and my place at dahn yoga which willingly I love to give myself when available. It is a very special place to be and I hope people who embrace Eastern philosophy and practice and Korean culture write about that too. I hope my statement will interest those who ponder to “analyze” the “relationship” between Master and Student realizing alot of the growth begins and ends with the student.

  5. Jen says:

    DAHN Yoga Truth,

    Does your PR firm represent Dahn? Your statements if unfounded and unsubstantiated seem slanderous.

    Thanks for commenting.

  6. I am a yoga instructor and I always practiced alone. A year ago, dahn yoga was my first class experience, and it was definitely a unique experience. It is most certainly a practice that differs from the indian yoga. I practiced with them for about 4 months. Those four months really did make some positive changes for me. The time I was practicing yoga alone, I only knew of yoga as an exercise. That’s what is marketed to you in mainstream america. That yoga is good for the heart and health. you never hear anything at all about it being a spiritual practice. Before I joined dahn oga, I was experiencing many internal struggles and feelings finding my spiritual path. When I was introduced to brain wave vibration and how they meditate in class, many things began opening up inside me and I began to really fully understand myself and God and the universe. I knew that ilchi lee had discovered a powerful tool in finding the path to enlightenment and it worked for me. BUT, because of my awakening, I had gained an extremely discerning spirit and I saw weekly how the teachers of this yoga were trying to take me away from my own personal experience and give in that my experience should be more like theirs. In my awakening, I have found that all beliefs in their core have the truth within them and that human flaw put into religion has distorted the truth. That not only was sidharta gautama truly everything what is claimed of him, but also muhammed abdullah was taken up and showed heaven, and jesus of nazareth was God manifest into flesh…..the problem with all these lay within the words spoken from these men that were turned around, misunderstood and turned into factions of worship…when in fact all these men were giving us the keys to becoming what human beings are meant to be…complete evolution of sentient beings. That each words were spoken with many layers underneath given to us by the supreme being..the creator that we are all within and of.
    This I came to truly understand. It was thanks to dahn yoga’s practices that I was able to reach this first step in my own path to becoming buddha. However, whenever I expressed something like this, it was tried to, even gently, to be persuaded in another direction. the direction that their leader ilchi lee taught. lchi lee actually tries to teach his students to disregard the words of buddha, muhammed or jesus. that somehow he’s discovered something they did not. I didn’t bite the bait. I politely said my goodbye at the end of my 3 month signup and found some other indian hatha yoga studios. I miss the spiritual sessions with a room full of people as meditation is a greater experience when with other people. As dahn yoga does put a lot of focus on meditation. I miss it because all the yoga studios I’ve been to, none of them put much into the raja. It’s all about the asanas. Most of them will do maybe 5 minutes max in meditation and none of the classes have the comraderie or togetherness that should be when coming together for a spiritual practice. Too much are yoga studios selling yoga as an exercise and almost completely forgoing the root of yoga which is the spirit. I am a strong willed person. I can easily practice the dahn yoga studio and still have myself within it. I wouldn’t recommend dahn yoga to anyone if you’re looking for someone else to give you the answers…because they will give you THEIR answers. I will also not return to dahn yoga because the entire operation is simply trying to get as much money as they can out of you. The tuition is outrageous! way way too expensive for the service, and the retreats are equally expensive. Unless you’re someone who doesn’t have to worry about money or just doesn’t care how much something cost, then all to you…but not me. I am just a working class shmoe…too expensive for my wallet

  7. Jen says:

    Karen,

    While I also embrace Eastern Philosophies and traditions, you may have a more in depth knowledge of these topics than I do. However, I maintain my belief that sat guru is self and truth. Turning over one’s power to a “master” is to risk discernment or to risk seeing the truth through one’s own eyes. There are wise teachers within us and all around us all the time. Life is a teacher, the Earth, children, animals, and many gifted teachers, instructors and professors.

    True wisdom is to know how much we do not know. How can we learn it all from one ‘Master’?

    Thank you for your comment and expanding this discussion.
    Namaste,
    Jen

  8. Jen says:

    Hi Christian,

    Well said, all of it. I think the reason Dahn is ‘allegedly’ ‘cultish’ is for the two factors you discuss in depth – the money and the worship of one way or no way, being take the Ilichi Lee way or the highway. Fortunately, you seem well grounded in your own beliefs and acceptance of other traditions. Unfortunately, some are more vulnerable than others and in seeking and needing answers or a path to follow it may be easy to fall into a for profit business rather than a loving and open spiritual community.

    It is true that Western Yoga is heavy on the asana and a little too light on the spiritual practices. Raja and the spirit of community in meditation, devotion and love are what sets Yoga apart from say aerobics or step class. We need more of this in the west.

  9. Karen Doukas says:

    Hi Jen,

    The student should be clear about their intention for sure. A master is a mentor/guide. Yes, there are many who walk this path, not only in dahn yoga. :) I have met great people in dahn yoga as a dahn yoga instructor. Yes it is true the greatest is life and those we encounter…I do agree. I never said Jen to put your lifes hands in the masters..in fact I wrote against that. Do you not see what I wrote? In fact there is always a change in dahn yoga centers so that there is not that attachment. You are right..true wisdom is to find what we do not know and all too often some create more of the unknown than meets the eye. You seem to be a peaceful person, however not knowing much and only about the alleged accusations as you do admit and i admire you for, i hope you are not so swayed to see the light of dahn yoga. In reference to Christina’s comment I know dahn Masters who love Jesus and buddha and at times in my discussion with them have talked about the misuse of reliegon now days using the bible for their own uses and totally avoiding the truth of Jesus’s teaching. In fact though I have not been to one of the HSP ranches I know where they have statues of all spiritual leaders on the ranch such as Jesus and Buddha. Communication is important and those who want to promote and seek peace such as ourselves have shown greatly. Thank you for allowing me to express myself here.

  10. Karen Doukas says:

    To explain myself more clearly there are many Masters who love Jesus and Buddha and respect them greatly! Ilchi Lee even made statues of these great people who walked the earth on one of his ranches. Thank you again Jen for allowing this discussion to expand into the light.

  11. Jen says:

    Yes! I agree and think we are saying the same thing with different voices. I am sure you would agree though that not all students find the spiritual path with clear intentions. Often people seek the spiritual path from a place of pain, confusion, sickness or suffering and that’s when it is most important to land in a community that is safe and loving.

    The Dahn teachings worked well for Christian because he maintained discernment and was aware when he was being persuaded from his own personal path. I think the best teachers help us to see our own open doors to healing, faith and wholeness, rather than lead us down their own unique path.

    I may not have reached a fully mature understanding here but I think of it like this, you can step back into warrior 1, you can rise into it from lunge, you can turn to it from warrior 2 and you will still arrive at warrior 1. My observation is that there can be many paths to God, enlightenment, healing, unity, peace, whatever you choose to call it and since we are all as unique as snow flakes so may our paths be unique.

    Communication and community to promote peace, I agree. Feel free to stay connected and share here any time.

  12. Lan says:

    Jen,

    Thanks for inviting comments on your website. After 1 month of a 3-month membership with Dahn Yoga, I’ve decided to discontinue. I wondered early on if it was a cult, and the constant verbal suggestions — “Feel the warmth in your palm,” “You may feel a tingling in your fingertips,” etc. brought the word “hypnosis” to mind. I thought it would be a good form of exercise blended with true meditation and physical energy development. And the masters were very nice and likeable in the beginning. However, as time passed, my experience there became stranger and stranger.

    (1) The masters will not give me straight answers. When I asked about the 5,000-year-old community and the ancient text / practice, one master said he didn’t know anything about it. The other master said that the first master DOES know about it — so he lied? — and that she knows about the history and can tell me about it. But she didn’t elaborate. Instead, she urged me to stop thinking and to feel instead.
    (2) A Korean native (non-member) told me that all Korean people know about this — Dahn Yoga / Dahn Hak. She said that if I’m a Christian, I should stop going immediately. If you believe in God and Jesus, this is not for you because the meditation, which is put forth as opening energy channels and removing blockages, is actually a summoning of spirits. I should have guessed since we’re always led verbally to visualize a bright light coming from up above and traveling through our bodies via the different energy points into the ground. Bright light/energy coming from up above?

    (3) There are other members who have openly declared their strong Christian faith. I once remarked (after a close call) that, instead of good intuition, I have strong guardian angels watching over me. At these times, the master’s body language changed ever so slightly, with seeming discomfort. If Dahn is for all people, shouldn’t there be acceptance of differences?

    When the leadership lies or responds evasively, I don’t trust it. If I don’t trust someone, I’m definitely not going to let him or her hypnotize me! Although I’ve decided to discontinue Dahn Yoga, I felt a need to share some of my impressions. Thanks for the chance to do this, Jen.

  13. cat says:

    My sabumnim was actually someone that i went to grade school with, although she was a few years older than me. In no time, i was divulging things about my past that i really didn’t want her to know but i was told that if i wanted to improve my life, these were things that not only had to be discussed but written down! For about 8 months, dahn yoga felt like the answer to all my problems in life. I was told that if i did 103 bows in addition to other training “homework” every day, attended classes up to 5 times a week, went on intensive training retreats, had an occasional private healing session, and volunteered my life would improve exponentially. All of this effort also came with the promise of becoming a sabumnim and helping to run a center (which was not originally my idea by the way). Guess what…It became my life before i even knew what hit me.

    The more i got into it, the more rules and restrictions were placed on me. Ready for the most aggravating ones? Certain questions were met with obvious disdain and instantly dismissed. If i probed, a snide remark about my character was thrown my way to quickly shut me up and put me in my place. There was always, ALWAYS another program i needed to complete in order to move onto the next phase of my sabumnim’s vision for me, which i was led to believe was really my vision for my life. Not to mention that the pressures placed on me to break up with my boyfriend and bring in new members was absolutely rediculous. I trained through pain, discomfort, dizziness, nausea, illness and absolute exhaustion. I thought yoga was supposed to relax people!

    Anyway, when things stopped adding up i stopped participating. I have some friends that swear by Dahn yoga and some that insist it’s a cult. i honestly believe that cults are what people make of them. Although coerced, i was the one who took myself to that extreme. Ultimately, each person is responsible for his/her actions and although there are many scientific explanations as to why people obey authority figures, there has to be a point when you draw a line and decide your level of involvement. Discernment and critical thinking are what led me out of my dahn yoga fog. For the record, I do believe there are benefits such as decreased anxiety and personal empowerment, but you can achieve those things with any kind of exercise.
    Bottom Line: THINK FOR YOURSELVES!

  14. Jen says:

    Well said, Cat. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience.
    Jen

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