Dahn Yoga Called “Cult” in Lawsuit

Regular readers might recall the series of articles in which I detailed an experiment I designed and proctored to test some of Dahn Yoga’s more outlandish claims.

That series is here: I, II, III, IV, V.

Dahn Yoga leader Ilchi Lee created the Korean Institute of Brain Science, a group that claimed it could train children to “read” colors of cards inside opaque envelopes, using “Heightened Sensory Perception.” Because I had experience in these matters and because I was officemate with a physician who was also a Dahn member, I was able to run a test to see whether the extraordinary claims could be proven. They could not.

The kids knew they were failing, the audience had become mostly silent, or sat quietly talking to one another. The kids began to get up more, ate even more candy, exercised more. But no change. Most guesses were misses.

Eventually, after it became clear that nothing more was going to happen, Sung told me he was going to stop the experiment out of concern for the kids’ anxiety. The remaining trials would be marked down as misses.

Sung stepped up and announced the trial’s ending. The audience understood, and clearly felt for the kids.

One kid did 7 trials, the other two did 6 before the experiment was stopped . They were scheduled to do 12 trials each. They got 4 hits during these 19 trials, right what chance would predict: kid one got 1, kid two got 1, kid three got 2.

Recall that before the trial started, KIBS staff members were confident each kid would get at least 10 out 12 hits.

The Dahn organization has just been hit with a lawsuit claiming that recruits “are unknowingly subjected to an intensive program of psychological manipulation, indoctrination and various techniques of coercive thought reform designed to induce them to become Ilchi Lee’s disciples and devote themselves to serving him and his ‘vision.’ ”

One of the [Dahn] exercises, known as “bow training,” involved deep knee bends to the floor to a prone position and back up again, with hands raised high over their heads. Miller, who has joined the lawsuit, says once she had to do 3,000 of the exercises — “Which took about 10 hours, and we didn’t eat or drink during that time.”

“People were screaming, people were throwing up, people were running away,” Miller said. “People were rolling around, moaning, crying, wailing — there was a lot of emotional distress. We were taught that because of this bow training, we were cleaning what was blocking us, to connect to our soul.”

A video posted at YouTube shows what a Dahn training (cleansing?) session is like. (This video was posted at a Korean ExPat web site, linked here.)

Dahn followers are internet savvy. A quick survey of YouTube videos shows a throng of positive commentors accompany every pro-Dahn video. The comments are usually brief and have the feel that they are posted by the same person using different screen names, or that they were part of an organized response.

For example, this video of my old friend Sung Lee, has user “hansooryeon” simply saying “great!” This is followed by “chunjihwa4333” saying “I like the idea!!” and by “iintress” saying “impressive.” Over 1,600 comments followed that video, a common occurrence.

I do not know enough about what a “cult” is, its precise definitions and so forth. I can say that I was concerned what the KIBS/Dahn group was doing with children. Particularly in light of the failed experiment I ran. Naturally, Dahn advocates completely dismiss that test.

But I am glad that the group is finally receiving some well deserved negative publicity.


  1. ken

    CULTS — the premier source for understanding them & helping those under their thrall is:

    Steven Hassan. Check his books, “Combatting Cult Mind Control,” which has been around for years; also “Releasing the Bonds.”

    His website is: http://www.freedomofmind.com/

  2. Ray

    train children to “read” colors of cards inside opaque envelopes, using “Heightened Sensory Perception.”

    Karnack the Magnificent could show them how to do it. He regularly read and commented on notes concealed in envelopes on the Tonight Show.

  3. 49erDweet


    “I do not know enough about what a “cult” is, its precise definitions and so forth.”

    You may not have the purely technical definition down pat, but you sure had a well developed nose for sniffing out that particular cult.

    QUESTION “Have you ever seen a drunk?” ANSWER”Yes.” QUESTION”Well, how do you know?” One doesn’t need to see a thermometer to know when its hot. There are common things in life that self-identify. Cults seem to be one of those.

  4. mbabbitt

    Dr. Rodney Stark ( a former professor of mine) is an expert on religious sects and cults and his book, “The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation” is an excellent, scholarly study of the subject. See http://tinyurl.com/y9t69hv
    He was the first one to study the Moonies way back when and he dislikes not only the way the popular press bandies around the term “cult” but also the way the term “brainwashing” is used. My own comment (my MA is in Comp. Religion) is that like anything else, there are good cults and bad cults. Christianity started out as a Jewish sect but with the Apostle Paul’s influence, it became a cult (a truly unique creation) and evolved into a world religious movement made up of diverse sects.

  5. nonametoday

    Stark and others like him have been accused of being cult-apologists. They aren’t the best source for understanding the psychology of thought-reform. IMO, the best way to understand the whole “cult” thing is to remove the word “cult” from the explanation and think: systematic thought-reform, mental manipulation, emotional pressure, and sometimes physical enslavement – typically used to gain all of the victim’s money, time, and devotion – for the primary purpose of gaining material wealth and control/power (including sometimes sexual control) for the leader(s) This has nothing to do with the group being a religion, except that thought-reformers know that it is easier to accomplish this level of mental control if devotees come to believe the leader is a god, messiah, guru, prophet, or supernatural healer. Some thought-reformers believe it themselves, being generally narcissistic. If I happened to describe some religious organizations, then…well…what can I say? Adult abuse is adult abuse.

  6. Briggs


    Interesting. I have a book on the subject, a compilation of articles by various authors, some taking this view, others that. I’ve been meaning to read it, but haven’t had the time.

    Also see today’s (19 Jan) post.

  7. Dawn

    I find it fascinating that the word cult is bandied around so easily. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult) has an interesting perspective on cults, though it does note that the entry is currently under dispute. Another definition of cults can be found here: http://www.essortment.com/all/whatisdefiniti_rjli.htm, and has other interesting perspectives.

    Notably, they talk about separating the members from non-members, a lack of transparency about the organization, and having a totalitarian leader. All of which do not apply to Dahn Yoga. So, if they fail all the tests of being a cult, why do people keep calling them a cult?

    Check out http://www.dahnyoga.com and http://www.dahnyogavoice.com and get a coupon for a free class. I’ve been taking classes in the Boston area for several months now and really enjoy the core strengthening, stretching and de-stressing. Go take a class, decide for yourself.

  8. Former Dahn

    As a former Dahn instructor, I strongly disagree with Dawn’s assertion “they talk about separating the members from non-members, a lack of transparency about the organization, and having a totalitarian leader. All of which do not apply to Dahn Yoga.”

    On the contrary, Dahn instructors live together (usually sleeping on the floor, several to a room) and spend 95% of the time with other Dahn people. They are very separated from their former non-Dahn friends and family and the outside world.

    The Dahn organization is the definition of lack of transparency. Seriously Dawn, can you really claim with a straight face that does not apply to Dahn? While I was in Dahn, all the american masters were required to use our names and credit for the organization to buy cars (hyundais of course.) This was how the company got around having to pay more for business cars. How transparent is that? One problem was that the Korean masters got in so many accidents driving these cars that were not registered to them while doing business things like distributing flyers. A lot of the illegal things Dahn used to do, they slowly changed over the years as the organization came under closer scrutiny.

    How transparent is it to have a number of Korean masters illegally working in the US for Dahn and a number of them who married some of the first American masters in order to become US citizens? The Koreans that legally work pool their money and share it with the illegal workers. They all end up getting paid very little.

    How transparent is it to say that Ilchi Lee no longer runs Dahn, when the ever changing direction of the Dahn organization is precisely dictated by him? When instructors are supposed to watch and read his Kangchun (spiritual lectures), declare their visions to him, bow to his picture and pray to him to help them achieve their monthly vision (monthly goals, especially their center’s income goal?)

    I could go on and on with examples from my own personal experience of Dahn’s lack of transparency, but you get the picture. Perhaps Dahn doesn’t seem to have a totalitarian leader, but that is the beauty of its facade – the subtle manipulation. Check out the list of cult characteristics on Cults 101 at http://www.csj.org/infoserv_cult101/checklis.htm

    Of the 15 items, Dahn for sure matches at least 14 of them, especially:
    – The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader
    – Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged
    – The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel
    – The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
    – The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members
    – The group is preoccupied with making money
    – Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

    Don’t be lured in by the “free” class coupon. One free class doesn’t make up for the thousands of dollars you’ll be pressured to pay later.

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