A Cult or not a Cult? Regardless, it’s creepy.

My friend, Sarah, subscribes to Glamour magazine and brought me the December issue so I could read an article called “The Scary Yoga Obsession”. It’s about an organization, Dahn Yoga, that is being sued by 27 of its ex-participants (22 women and five men). “You need to write about this on your blog!” She said. And I agreed.

This is what happened: young, impressionable men and women attended a yoga class to find some peace and focus. They liked the class so much they came back for more. Over time, they became very involved at the Dahn Yoga center. They shelled out a lot of money (a LOT) for workshops and trainings. They loved the trainings and were told that if they wanted, Dahn Yoga could be their life. They took drastic measures to make this happen, so they could become a “master” and share the Dahn Yoga lifestyle with others. One woman moved to South Korea, the home of founder Ilchi Lee. One dropped out of MIT, broke up with her boyfriend, and devoted her life to the practice. Of the process, she says “It felt like you were falling in love, only much bigger, because you weren’t just falling in love with a person, but with a community, a practice and a lifestyle, all in one. It was everything. I felt like the luckiest person in the world.”

You can probably see where this is going. Gradually, one by one, they woke up and realized that they’d given up everything they cared about for this organization. And then it got ugly.

One woman started questioning her choices when she sold a $75,000 package of sessions to one couple, while she was only making $30,000 annually. She and a group approached the management with some constructive ideas about their positions. Shortly after, it was determined she should be transferred across the country to do “construction work” and be “re-educated”. The woman who moved to South Korea claims to have been sexually assaulted by Ilchi Lee himself. When she reported it, she was told not to question the integrity of the leader. It seems a lot of women had to experience something intensely insulting in order to leave.

The group of 27 is suing the Dahn Yoga organization for lots of money to counter their emotional and financial distress ($85,000 for yoga training – yowza), and the lawsuit includes a charge of sexual assault.

"I’ve been involved in a number of cults both as a leader and a follower. You have more fun as a follower but you make more money as a leader." (photo by NBC)

I have mixed feelings about this. The Dahn Yoga website looks pretty harmless (although I’m leery of the term “brain education”). There are lots of centers in Chicago and its suburbs, so within a couple hours for me, but I had never heard of it before. This leads me to think the centers themselves are neither pure evil nor super awesome. And the Glamour article does include – tucked in at the very end of the story – some comments from people in the Dahn Yoga community who think the lawsuits are a bunch of malarkey. Dahn Yoga started a blog to counter all the negative things being publicized about their organization, which is also worth checking out.

I’m sure there are lots of people all over the country who go to Dahn Yoga centers, practice a few times a week, and then leave. But how did the women in the story get so caught up? Was it their decision, or was there something more malicious at work?

I think this story just confirms something I already knew, which is this – you have to be your own advocate in life. There are people out there who will take advantage of you, and not everyone is looking out for your best interests. Some people learn this early on, and some never learn it. I am incredibly lucky because I didn’t have to lose myself to learn this lesson, like the women in the story did. I just had to have lots of confusing and frustrating and inane conversations with boyfriends, financial aid counselors, former employers, potential employers, credit card companies, medical providers, insurance companies, loan institutions, internet service providers, landlords, etc. to learn this: If you don’t stick up for yourself every single time, no one else will.

It sounds harsher than I mean it. In reality, I have my husband, my parents, and my friends (and my dogs!) to back me up when I need them. But they won’t always be there. I am my only constant, and I have to trust myself. I have to be my own advocate, and it can be a full-time job.

So I can see how someone who doesn’t know this could get swept up in a “cult” like this Dahn Yoga group, or really any other sensational organization, or religion, or drug, or glamorous career. If you aren’t constantly asking yourself “Is this what’s best for me? Am I doing the right thing? Should I take more time to think it over?” other people around you will convince you pretty quickly that it is, you are, and you shouldn’t. You have to ask yourself the hard questions, because people around you will give you the easy answers.

That being said, I probably won’t be checking out Dahn Yoga any time soon, because it kind of gives me the creeps.



4 responses to “A Cult or not a Cult? Regardless, it’s creepy.

  1. there are so many different types of yoga… i have heard of dahn yoga, but not its particular approach. and if this is the approach… umm…

    • Yeah, it wasn’t very clear on their site what the difference is between Dahn and “regular” yoga. This was as straightforward of an answer as I could find (in the FAQ): “Some of the differences between modern Dahn Yoga and Indian yoga are that Dahn Yoga doesn’t utilize “named” postures, and postures are typically not held for as long.”

  2. As a former “master” instructor for 3 years, i can say that Dahn is not much like what most people know as yoga. It is a way to meet the mind, meditate, heal the body. The class has many benefits, but i wouldn’t call it yoga. Also what they call Tai Chi is ususally not really Tai Chi. Although the classes are great, the plan is ALWAYS to get the member to progress from regular classes to workshops, meditation tours, healer school, and instructor training. If the members are wealthy, they are targetet for private healing or special programs costing several hundred to several thousands of dollars. If they are young and have little money, they might be encouraged to take out loans to pay for training. I’m not trying to be particualrly negative, these are just the facts as I have seen them over the past 6 years of my life. I’ve excluded the really bad stuff…you don’t need to know that…if this isn’t enough to steer you away you might need to make the mistake of joining and learn on your own~

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