Korean yoga centers a booming business

CNN/January 5, 2010

New York - Before beginning to research the accusations by more than two dozen of its former employees, I had never heard of Dahn Yoga, nor its founder, a Korean businessman named Ilchi Lee. But I quickly learned that Dahn Yoga is a thriving business, with nearly 130 storefront centers here in the United States and more than a thousand brick and mortar locations worldwide.

Dahn Yoga's public relations representatives say around half a million people currently are members. According to an article in Forbes Magazine last summer, a little more than 5,000 people work for it. The magazine also estimates the yoga business and other affiliated companies stood to make about $34 million in 2009. Over the years, the company says, nearly 2 million people have practiced Dahn yoga. Its website claims celebrity endorsements from some prominent figures.

All very impressive facts.

So what to make of the accusations by 27 former employees, most of whom reached the level of so-called "Dahn Master", or "leader", inside the organization? The federal civil lawsuit they filed last spring in Arizona and amended only a month or so ago is replete with claims that, to even make it to that stage within the organization, these people felt coerced to spend money they didn't have. And, once ensconced at the organization's retreat and training compound near Sedona, Arizona, they say they underwent physical training that left them on the verge of exhaustion, without proper food or water. The lawsuit claims that Dahn Yoga is a "totalistic, high-demand cult group." Stark claims to be sure.

Not unexpectedly, the company denies everything. Its lawyers say Dahn is definitely not a cult and that the claims brought forth in the lawsuit are hogwash and highly exaggerated for a single purpose: to squeeze money from the company they once admired. Many of those who work today for Dahn Yoga say the accusations are pure nonsense.

Perhaps if the lawsuit ever gets to trial, the testimony and evidence presented will lead to a definitive conclusion. Most likely, however, it won't.

It may be a bromide to say readers and viewers will have to make up their own minds. But that's certainly the case here. Our three-part series begins tonight at 8 eastern. Watch the whole thing, and then let us know what you think.

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