In truth, the reason why I haven’t written about the Dahn Yoga controversy is because I don’t know much about the practice. So last month when 24 practitioners filed suit in an Arizona U.S. District Court alleging the organization was a cult which mentally coerced them and defrauded them, I decided to learn more.
Dahn yoga is a Korean system founded by Ilchi Lee which most closely resembles non-violent martial arts such as qi gong. Through the practice of simple exercises of the brain and body, Dahn yoga claims to enhance the mind body connection, also known as Brain Education. Based in Oriental Medicine, it includes asana like exercises and meditation elements. The practice is meant to lower stress levels, release tension, and improve quality of life. The main focus of the practice is to use your brain well, which includes working with energy in the body and mind in classes like “meridian stretching.” Many aspects of this “yoga” more closely resemble eastern martial arts rather than traditional yoga.
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What classifies it as “yoga” as opposed to a martial art or eastern meditative practice is somewhat unclear. I didn’t find any references to classical yoga in Dahn. Perhaps it is because the stretching and breathing exercises have similarities to traditional asana and pranayama, or perhaps like many organizations and individuals who use “yoga” to define their practice, it is simply associating itself with the popular “trend.” The aspects that I look for in a yoga experience, though, are no where to be found. Not to say that this invalidates Dahn as a practice, but if you believe so strongly in the outcome of the practice, why depend on the word yoga to draw an audience. Instead, call it what it is, whether that be martial arts or otherwise, and trust what is being offered through the practice will draw the practitioners.
As a practitioner, student and teacher of the practice and science of yoga, taking a system and naming it yoga really rubs me the wrong way. There is a growing community of like minded yogis who are working hard to keep the spark of yoga alive amidst all of the convolutions of the traditional practice. Many yoga teachers and practitioners are working hard to clear away the rubble of the yoga explosion and return to the foundation of the practice. It becomes difficult and confusing to newcomers and seasoned practitioners alike when they are inundated with hundreds of different styles and systems, many of which aren’t yoga at all.
But, for whatever reason, the Dahn system defines itself as yoga, and it is making claims that it can heal the physical and mental bodies, alleviate ailments, and create a harmonious life by choosing the path of Dahn yoga. Like other systems that claim personal revolution and healing, the Dahn system is a members only club, so don’t expect the secrets to be revealed until you pay your dues, literally. And, if you do, be aware that there are many non-yogic aspects to the Dahn system, which have been and continually are being addressed by those “members” who are speaking out.
Those who are pressing charges against the organization allege that the claims of a harmonious life are far from the reality. Claimants are accusing the organization of everything from fraud to sexual assault. San Francisco resident, Meredith Potter, says that she was expected to work exceptionally long hours without proper compensation as well as procure large sums of money for the organization.
This is not the first time the Dahn organization has been on the receiving end of accusations. In 2006, the family of Julia Siverls filed a wrongful death suit against the organization after she died of dehydration while training to become a Dahn master. And, in 2002, a former Dahn employee filed a civil lawsuit in Alameda County, California for Unfair Business Practices and Undue Influence. The goal of Dahn yoga “enlightening 100 million earth humans by 2010” as professed by Lee seems to have hit a snag at the moment, but many more people continue to believe in its powers than in its faults.
Have you ever practiced Dahn yoga? What is your experience?