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Dahn Yoga Centers Subject of Investigation


Ilchi Lee, a South Korean businessman who founded a national chain of yoga and wellness centers called Dahn Yoga, is the subject of investigation. Twenty-seven former employees have alleged that Dahn Yoga is a cult that demands large amounts of money from its followers and that recruits are subjected to “an intensive program of psychological manipulation, indoctrination and various techniques of coercive thought reform,” according to the lawsuit filed in a federal court in Arizona. The company’s US operations are located in Sedona, Arizona.

According to a July 15, 2009, article in Forbes, the former employees claim the group subjected them to forced isolation, extreme exercises such as bowing 3,000 times without breaks, forcing them to hold certain poses for 20 to 30 minutes, and sticking their heads in the toilet. The suit alleges that Ilchi Lee also sexually preyed on young female disciples, and that he coerced employees into taking out student loans and then giving increasingly greater amounts of money to the company.

One of the plaintiffs, Liza Miller, told CNN that she and others were urged to participate in extreme physical training at the retreat center in Sedona. Miller said she once “had to do” 3,000 of the bowing exercises, “which took about 10 hours, and we didn’t eat or drink during that time.” Some of the participants reportedly were vomiting, crying, screaming, and running away.

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The company denies all the allegations, and according to CNN Justice, the accusers are “disgruntled former employees.” A corporate spokesperson, Joseph Alexander, told CNN that “In our 30-year history, we have helped millions of people lead healthier and happier lives.” The plaintiffs say Ilchi Lee induces people “to become Ilchi Lee’s disciples and devote themselves to serving him and his ‘vision.’”

According to the Dahn Yoga website, the practice “is a unique type of yoga that features simple exercises for the conditioning of the body and mind, starting with the core that is suitable for people of all body types and ages.” The Forbes article states that there are 1,221 centers in nine countries, and that the company employs 5,053 people. The first US center was started in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1991.

In addition, there are 22 “Body and Brain” franchises in the United States, which teach a technique called brain wave vibration. The Dahn Yoga website says brain wave vibration training “is one of the simplest forms of Brain Education, and also one of the most effective.” The method focuses on the brain stem, which is the most basic part of the brain. The method is reportedly “designed to get your neo-cortex, the thinking part of your brain, out of the way of your brain stem.” Brain wave vibration is a “yoga for the brain” that entails using rhythmic movement reportedly designed to balance the mind and reduce stress.

Some of Lee’s followers have voiced their support of the Dahn Yoga founder. Joseph Alexander claims no one was ever coerced into giving money to Dahn Yoga. CNN noted that it has received e-mails in support of the organization and Lee. For now, it looks like it will be up to the courts to decide who is telling the truth.

CNN Justice, Jan. 5, 2010
Dahn Yoga website
Forbes, “Dahn Yoga: Body, Brain and Wallet,” July 15, 2009