"What I once sought as a source of relaxation was becoming more of a source of tension"

October 2001
By a former Dahn Hak student

I once went to a local Dahn Center near my home in California. At that time I was clinically depressed and suffering from anxiety. The master there, a young woman with a kind, pleasant face, was very welcoming. In no time I signed up for their three-month basic membership, which cost almost $400.00. That quickly grew into a membership within the "New Human School," which cost me another $1,000.00 plus. But at the time I was convinced this would be the key to me finding healing and peace within myself. After all, the people were so kind and sincere, how could it not be?

With few exceptions, the "masters" at the Dahn Center were very kind, devoted people who seemed genuinely interested in helping people heal and grow. For the most part I enjoyed the exercise program and it did help me feel better, if for no other reason than any exercise or movement can help alleviate the symptoms of depression.

While I was a member I did wonder about Dahn Hak being a "cult," because their activities went beyond any mere exercise class I had ever been involved with. Yet I did not see anything overtly resembling what I considered "cultish" like the Moonies or the Jim Jones group. I felt more or less comfortable, went regularly and also attended some of the NHS workshops.

However, after I had been involved with this group for nearly a year, some things began to raise red flags, albeit small ones, in my thinking. For example, I saw many of the other members who were at my same "level" becoming more and more involved and in ways, which I did not wish to become involved. Instead, I just wanted to go to the center to do the exercise program. That's all. But the masters and others would encourage more and more participation, and I felt an obligation to participate at other levels like the others.

I saw several fellow members involved in things other than just taking a class. They would work at the weekend-long "Shim Sung" workshops, lead discussion groups based on Seung Heun Lee's book, help teach classes, help staff Mr. Lee's visit to our area and promote the program in the community. It seemed like they "naturally" gravitated or evolved towards these roles. One woman became so deeply involved, that despite her family considerations, she was eventually spending most of her time at the center working for free. There was no way I was willing and/or able to do that. What I once sought as a source of relaxation was becoming more of a source of tension.

The masters had a strange way of somehow working the members that I still don't fully understand. By that I mean they were able to effectively convince people that participation was a matter of "choice," that everything was okay. The "I love yous" abounded. Perhaps they were even sincere. But then they would ask me to do some task and I didn't feel it was okay to just say no, because they had been so nice and supportive.

Now that I have been away from the center for several months, I can see more clearly why these red flags were raised in my mind. I was, after all, paying for this kindness and support; it wasn't necessarily freely given. Being put-upon to work for free shouldn't have been part of the deal. After I left I talked with another woman who had also left, because the masters and their member-helpers kept emphasizing to her too, the need to go up more levels. But all she wanted to do was come and exercise.

But there is a lot more to Dahn Hak than exercise and well-being. Ultimately, the goal is to "advance" in the program to where enough people will be involved, one million to be exact, in order to effect a kind of "energy movement" or "transformation" that will heal all the ills of the planet and its people. There were some things about this philosophy that I did not agree with.

What finally led me to leave this group was the disrespect that I felt one master demonstrated, by regarding my concerns about their philosophy as my unhealthy fear, lack of trust and not being my "True Self." I told this master that I had thought and prayed about this issue and had come to the conclusion that I felt differently, and that though we might have the same goals and vision, we may have different ways of going about expressing this and reaching our goals. This master then advised me to "go deeper within" and "search deeply." Apparently, it seemed until I found an answer that agreed with their view. I found that very offensive. At this point I decided to stop attending.

Then I then received many phone calls from the center and ultimately for a while simply stopped answering my telephone.

Another thing that deeply concerns me is the exercise program itself. While it did help me feel better and improved my sense of well-being, there were things we were asked to do, which I now feel are actually potentially harmful, especially since I have become more educated on the topic. For example, one thing we did to gain more "energy" involved holding one position, often a very uncomfortable one, for as long as 30 minutes. Members would lie on the floor, on their backs, with arms held straight up, palms facing flat upward, towards the ceiling, legs raised and bent at a 90-degree angle at the hips, knees and ankles. This was sort of like being on all fours, but upside-down. Then they would tell us to hold that position, and repeat to ourselves, "My body is not me, but mine." This was a concept learned at the first workshop, which was supposedly a test of mental mastery over your body.

This is where peer pressure would come into play for me. Probably no one there wanted to be the only person to lower their arms and legs before the time was called. So we would force ourselves to bear the discomfort and often pain. I think this sort of stringent, Spartan exercise, particular for beginners who may have back problems or other health issues, could be very detrimental. It was frequently extremely difficult to do these poses. The strain would at times cause my limbs to shake, which they said was a "good" sign of releasing "toxic energy."

I began to dread and resent my Dahn practices, because they certainly were not enjoyable, but I felt compelled to do them so that I might "grow."

I began thinking about the purpose of such activities and wondering perhaps cynically, if there wasn't another, maybe darker agenda for having people perform these kinds of things. Perhaps this is one way for the masters to ascertain who is willing to do what is asked of them, regardless of any logic or discomfort. In other words, to see who is a good follower. These questions haunted me. I especially felt uncomfortable within the "Shim Sung" workshop when during one of our activities, we were being videotaped.

Another activity I thought was potentially dangerous involved members giving abdominal and other massages to one another. I don't think any of us were trained as masseuses or physical therapists, and I worried about possibly rupturing someone's internal organs. In any event, we were encouraged to ignore the natural messages that our bodies gave us of discomfort. Instead, we were encouraged to "overcome" these types of attachments, release "toxic" energy, remove "blockages," and develop "mastery" to find the "True Self."

Relating all this I feel a bit embarrassed that I actually bought into such ideas without really thinking them through. Being depressed, maybe I was vulnerable and desperate for relief, and I wanted something to work.

I DO believe that there is something to "Ki" or "Chi" energy, that mysterious life force that courses through our bodies. I am certainly not trying to discredit Eastern philosophy about health, which I greatly respect and believe Western doctors could learn much from this philosophy. And, I DID feel this powerful energy during my practice at the Dahn Center. I do believe that is real. The Eastern meridian system/approach to understanding the human body has been verified in surgeries performed using acupuncture in lieu of anesthesia.

I have since joined a Yoga class at my local college. I am finding in this class everything I was looking for, and at a far cheaper cost--about $30.00 for 16 weeks of classes. I appreciate enormously how my instructor emphasizes the importance of listening to one's body. This instructor is obviously well-educated in human physiology and cautions you to use your own judgment about the various poses and encourages the students to modify these poses according to their own individual needs.

Real disciplines, such as martial arts, T'ai Chi and Yoga are rooted in thousands of years of practice and teaching. They cannot be mastered in a weekend workshop and/or even a matter of weeks or months. Many people devote years, or even their entire lives, to such specific training. But in an authentic Yoga class, a person feels free to use the discipline for his/her own specific needs, whether it be for stress reduction, relaxation or working towards becoming a yogi. You should not be pressured to keep "advancing" according to some hidden agenda that you do not fully understand.

As I said, with just a couple exceptions, the Dahn masters were kind people. They certainly did not fit the profile of cult leaders I have read about. I wondered how healthy their devotion was, though, as they seemed to spend their every waking moment working at the center. Also, they rotated frequently. That is, none of them stayed at a certain center for more than six months or so. They were constantly transferred to different locations all over the world. It seemed, though I do not know for certain, that these transfers occurred without very much input from them.

I wonder about all the things that were not revealed to us, and why? I would like to believe that Mr. Lee is a sincere man who genuinely wants to offer his ideas for making the world a better place, to whoever wants to participate. There are some very good things his program has to offer. However, the idea and the experience somehow just didn't converge in a way I found believable. The idea of wanting to gather people together to make a positive impact upon the world, but charging a very large fee to teach them how to do this, just does not gel for me. In the end, I believe it will take a lot more than following a program to make this world a better place. A whole lot more.

Copyright © 2001 Rick Ross.

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