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The Woo Around Us: Dahn Yoga

Posted on : Aug-18-2009 | By : Jared | In : Blog Post, skepticism

Tags: , , , ,


Continuing our tour of local purveyors of woo, we come next to Dahn Yoga.  Now, aside from the fact that it often pushes certain woo-ish ideas, yoga can be a valid form of exercise. I’ve generally forgiven it for its excesses because of this, and would have done the same for the Dahn Yoga centers I see both near my job (in the Back Bay) and my home (in Cambridge), too.

But back in February, we were fortunate enough to get the inimitable Tim Farley, of WhatsTheHarm.net, as our speaker for Boston Skeptics in the Pub. Amongst other things, Tim talked about a woman named Julia Siverls who died during a Dahn-sponsored course. This piqued my curiosity and prompted me to look into things a bit more deeply.

According to their website, Dahn Yoga has a history going back “several thousand years,” but that “the Korean people failed to keep this tradition alive,” no doubt to their great shame and consternation. Then, in 1980, the “tradition” was revived when ” Ilchi Lee began teaching Dahn Yoga at a public park.” Much like any LARPers you might see in a park are reviving the proud tradition of foam swordfighting, long neglected by the European people. Anyway, from then on, Dahn has experienced slow but steady growth, and now boasts “nearly 1,000 centers worldwide.”

Dahn differs from regular Yoga in a few ways. To quote, “Most yoga focuses on the physical and is more complicated. Dahn Yoga® 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.” What this means is that, in addition to normal yoga exercises like stretches and coordinated movement, Dahn Yoga employs something called “Brain Wave Vibration” to “bring you back to your own healthy, natural rhythm.” If you don’t feel like watching the video, it suggests that through movement, we can heal our brain waves, and thereby heal our bodies. The details of exactly how this works are, of course, vague.

But that is a simple, relatively harmless piece of New Age woo. Dahn Yoga has, lately, been trailed by far more serious accusations. The article about Julia Siverls points out a growing trend of former Dahn members coming out and accusing the organization of being more akin to a cult than a yoga studio. A handy summary can be found on the Dahn Yoga Wikipedia page.

One of the cases referenced there has a particular connection to the Hub. A WBZ story notes that nine of the twenty-six former members involved in the suit come from Massachusetts.  The story related in that article is disturbing, if true, though not terribly unfamiliar. The plaintiffs complain of being subjected to isolation and high pressure tactics, fostering a sense of dependence on the group, all of which weakened their resistance to the exponentially increasing costs of Dahn Yoga seminars. These methods sound extremely similar to those used by other groups accused of being cults.

However, not everyone is aware of these allegations, as just this past May the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Denise Simmons (the Mayor of Cambridge) sponsored a forum praising Ilchi Lee and promoting his methods, and in 2004, former Mayor Michael Sullivan declared Sept. 19 “Ilchi Lee Day.” From this list, it’s clear that Cambridge was not alone. You’d think these politicians would want to do more research when deciding what to promote, but perhaps they were fooled by the touchy-feely New Age side and missed the accusations of culthood.

Whether Dahn Yoga is a cult, a money-making scheme, or simply a very demanding discipline of Yoga is irrelevant. The important thing to take away from this entry is that you should ALWAYS do research before joining any groups or organizations, and should do likewise for your friends and loved ones. Most people probably do not encounter problems with Dahn Yoga, but I’d be willing to bet that a good number of practitioners are unaware of its potentially shady side. By spreading awareness of these accusations, we can hope that such people would feel far better giving their money to a less controversial organization.

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Comments (11)

I would like to point out that I was at the Dahn Yoga Forum at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and it was not “sponsored” by the school – they simply provided the space. When I made the school aware of the pseudoscientific nonsense that suffused the three hour presentation (and the vaguely disturbing chanting they encouraged us to do) the Dean ofthe School was appalled, and has reviewed HGSE’s policies regarding which organizations to rent its space to.

Furthermore, I did write to the mayor about her endorsement of this nonsense, and did receive a very swift reply from her office saying they were also appalled, had confronted Dahn Yoga, and had received an extremely unsatisfactory resonse (the mayor’s representative described it as “scary”). The mayor’s office has also reviewed their policies, I am told.

James Croft
Harvard Graduate School of Education

@James Croft:

Thanks for pointing that out! I couldn’t find too many references to the event NOT on a Dahn-affiliated site, so I just used what was available :)

Glad to hear that Mayor Simmons caught on about Dahn’s dark side. Unfortunately, Dahn will always be able to claim Cambridge as an ally thanks to the actions of the previous mayor. They’ll be boasting about “Ilchi Lee Day” from now on, no matter what.


Indeed – and in fact this Mayor made May 6th “Brain Education Day”, so they have TWO days in the year it seems =S

I also notice in their article they make no mention of the rather long speech I gave during the Q&A about pseudoscience and the need to be critical. No surprise there…

this organization, in my opinion, is a mind controlling cult. I fought them for over a year trying to get a loved one out. I hired a professional therapist who specializes in cults in order to get proper guidance. It has been scary to see the changes my loved one has gone through as she worked for them. In one year she gave up her life long religious beliefs and now has a picture of Ilchi Lee over their bed. That is something someone does for an object of worship. Relationships with family and friends have been damaged or destroyed. Anyone who questions Dahn is quickly removed from her life. She left a good paying job to work for Dahn at near minimum wage and doesn’t get paid for all the hours worked. We recently attempted an intervention that ended up failing to break their grip.

In my opinion if you have issues that you are seeking help with, stay away from Dahn. They will get that information out of your during healing sessions and shim sung and then exploit that information to get you to spend money on more training. My loved one is nearly $20k in debt in less than two years because of this place. Does this sound like a healthy place to be?

There is currently a thread on the bullshido.net forum discussing this issue.


Mr. Croft, would you be willing to provide some of your comments on the topic?

ALERT: Law firm preparing new lawsuit on behalf of New England residents against DAHN YOGA & HEALTH CENTERS, INC. and related parties. Please provide details of your experiences including recruitment, indoctrination, psychological and financial manipulation, coercion and undue influence resulting in the spending of excessive amounts of money on DAHN services and other illegal activities. Contact jff@finnertylawoffices.com. Thank you.

Dr. Lee is still working under Ilchi ?

Great to read this write up. I live near Sedona where this drama continues to unfold. The 3000 bows – true. People getting injured doing shim-sung – true. Business activity at the Mago Retreat, supposedly a non-profit “religious” retreat – true. Not getting a permit to put up a statue – true. Oh there’s more and a lot of it came out in the Rolling Stone article. And yes, Ilchi Lee is driven around in his hummer in Sedona. Exhorbitant membership costs – true. Best of all, yes it is true that the staff encourage prospective members to put the course fees on their credit cards if the member can’t afford to pay any other way. Most folks go broke and then are “shunned” being found “no longer worthy”!

With the coming of new students this Fall, Dahn Yoga in Cambridge was recruiting on the streets for free classes. There is no harm at first, but they are weirdly pushy when it comes to signing up for a set of classes. Not the kind of atmosphere you want when you are supposed to be relaxing and stretching, anyway.

As an employee of several local Boston Dahn Yoga centers, I want to point out that everything written on this website and in the comments can be deemed as a “big misunderstanding”.

It is so unfortunate that such well intentioned and positive actions can be so grossly misinterpreted by the general public. But, such is the reality of trying to raise awareness and conciousness of human beings.

If you are not sure if Dahn Yoga is good or bad, you simply need to walk into a Dahn Yoga center and speak honestly with one of the long time instructors. You will quickly find a depth of love and sincereity that you have not likely encountered before

Dahn Yoga daily helps thousands of people across this country and the globe recover their natural health and vitality through simple mind-body techniques.

Americans are loosing touch with themselves, with their bodies and with their minds. If you need proof, just walk down any street and look at the general health condition of our population. We are overweight, smoking, drinking, aimless and lost. Dahn yoga is working tirelessly to reconect and rejuvinate our human potential and natural essence for the good of all.

Please check your facts before spreading such harmful garbage for your own pleasure.

Please be more specific. Which facts are wrong?

Let me give you just 10 extra FACTS on DY founder Ilchi Lee and let me know if any of these facts are wrong.

1. Ilchi does not hold Ph.D from accredited university or medical degree, yet he calls himself Dr. Ilchi Lee or Ph.D. This is a fraud.

2. Ilchi was convicted of 5 crimes in 1993 including selling fake degrees to his followers, selling snake oil and real estate fraud. He paid hefty fine and imprisonment sentence.

3. Ilchi claims he was selected as top 50 spiritual leaders of the world by UN, but UN official Bawa Jain said this was a lie in Korean TV station interview.

4. Ilchi claimed he was Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

5. Ilchi never learned traditional Korean Taoist tradition. All he learned is 3 month of Guk Sun Do which is some of DY exercises are based on. No wonder there is no depth in DY. You can be a master in a month if you pay enough money.

6. Dahn Mu Do is not based on traditional Korean Martial Arts. If you disagree, name that tradition. It is based on Chen style tai chi, which is Chinese. O-un was trained in Chinese style tai chi.

7. Since you are an employee of DY, you should know this best. All masters are in debt. Name one master who is not in debt. Being in DY is a losing proposition. Do you even know how much you are in debt, since your credit card statement goes to NJ so you can be insensitized about debt?

8. Brain Vibration or respiration is not based on science but pseudoscience. Name ONE source which says this is scientifically valid. Whatever happened to Ilchi’s claim he is co-researching Brain Vibration with Ivy league schools and UC?

9. DY blocks comments on their YouTube videos to stop the truth to come out.

10. Ilchi was featured in CNN, Rolling Stone, ABC, CBS, NBC, New York Post and other major US media as a cult leader. Yet he NEVER done any interview with objective media or reporter. Why? Because he doesn’t have enough intelligence to talk about on any subject including brain.

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