[Ilchee] Lee, a South Korean businessman, is the founder of a national chain of yoga and wellness centers called Dahn Yoga. The company teaches that its physical exercises “can restore the vibrations of the body and brain to their original, healthy frequencies,” according to a video introduction on its Web site.
But Dahn Yoga is now defending itself from allegations by former employees that it is “a totalistic, high-demand cult group” that demands large sums of money from its followers and enshrines Lee as an “absolute spiritual and temporal leader.”
A lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Arizona, says 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.’ ”
Jade Harrelson, one of more than two dozen plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Dahn leaders “prey upon people like me who are ignorant about the way money works.”
The company denies the allegations and calls the plaintiffs “disgruntled former employees.”
Harrelson and other former employees say Dahn Yoga instructors coerced them into taking out student loans, then transferring the funds to the company. Payments began in small amounts, she said, then progressively increased as fees for training and courses became more expensive. Harrelson said she eventually paid about $40,000 to Dahn.
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Alexander said no one was ever coerced into giving money to Dahn Yoga. The former employees “have misinterpreted natural business cycles, natural business goals, as some type of undue pressure,” he said.
“We make no excuses and no apology for the fact that we are a business,” Alexander said. The plaintiffs, he said, “are after one thing — they are after money.”
And Dahn Yoga attorney Alan Kaplan added, “Let’s make it clear. My client, Mr. Lee, is not a cult leader. Dahn Yoga is not a cult.”
But Ryan Kent, the lawyer who filed suit on behalf of Harrelson and 26 other former employees in May, said Dahn Yoga leaders indoctrinate followers, then “take advantage of you and take all your money.”
Harrelson also said Lee singled her out for special attention and eventually sexually assaulted her while she was living and working in Seoul, South Korea.