Posted on : Aug-18-2009 | By : Jared | In : Blog Post, skepticism
Tags: boston, cambridge, cults, new age woo, what's the harm
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.