I-Team reporter Joe Bergantino investigates what this group is all about, and what you should know before you sign up.
Veronica Siverls Dunham:
“I can’t believe she’s gone.”
Veronica Siverls Dunham is talking about her sister Julia, a 41 year-old college professor whose mission was to become a master of Dahn Hak, a group that says it teaches yoga and holistic health at 147 centers around the country, including eleven in Massachusetts.
But the I-Team has learned there is a lot more to Dahn Hak than just yoga.
Robert Siverls, Julia’s brother:
“When she talked about the Dahn Hak Institute, she talked about being of service. She talked about getting rid of her worldly possessions and spending a year or so in Korea.”
To become a master, one thing Julia had to do was hike up Casner Mountain in Arizona with 25 pounds of rocks in her backpack.
According to fellow hikers, there were only three bottles of water for all five hikers on the 20 mile trek.
Julia collapsed several times under the hot desert sun, but continued on at the urging of the group.
She died of dehydration.
Allen Siverls, Julia’s brother:
“To expose someone to the degree that they can ultimately die is madness.”
Charlotte Connors is a Dahn spokesperson.
Charlotte Connors, Dahn spokesperson:
“We strongly disagree with them and can’t really speak about any of the details because of the pending litigation.”
What happened to Julia Siverls shines a spotlight on a group that some experts say fits the model of a destructive cult, that has torn apart families and has cost some members thousands of dollars.
Its founder is Il Chi Lee, a Korean who calls himself a doctor, but only has two honorary doctorates, one from a non-accredited school in California.
Lee claims to have paranormal powers, and the ability to teach others how to increase their brain function.
He says his mission is to inspire 100 million earth-humans to join him in what he calls an enlightenment revolution.
Many of his followers start off attending basic yoga classes.
They are encouraged to go to workshops, retreats, and healing sessions costing up to $10,000.
Dahn Hak has sold its followers $4,000 healing turtles, and is still peddling $800 healing necklaces and $90 vibrating power brains.
Mind control expert Steve Hassan says Dahn Hak uses its centers to lure people in. He has formed his opinion after studying the group and, for a fee, counseling former members.
Steve Hassan, Cult expert:
“I see a lot of people after they’ve left the group, and they are still distraught and having panic attacks, anxiety attacks, sleep problems, nightmares.”
Ari Laquidara, Dahn instructor:
“My experience is that this is a fantastic organization for holistic healing and wellness. We have some great programs. People are getting huge benefits.”
Ari Laquidara runs the Dahn Center in Jamaica Plain.
His father Charles, a Boston radio personality, contacted Steve Hassan after Ari chose Dahn Hak over graduate school.
Charles Laquidara, Ari’s father:
“I feel his mind is being controlled.”
But his efforts to get his son to leave the group failed.
Ari Laquidara, Dahn instructor:
“It’s a way of life for me that I’ve chosen, that I love.”
Ben Lucal had a different experience. He left Dahn Hak after two months.
Ben Lucal, Former member:
“Dahn Hak tries to sell you that they are giving you a healing technique that you will be able to take out into the world and help people. But what they are giving you is a life of bringing more people into the group.”
The I-Team has talked with other former Dahn members who have even more serious complaints.
And there is one woman, an instructor in the 1990’s, who has sued the organization alleging she was brainwashed and that leader Il Chi Lee forced her to have sex with him.
The Dahn Hak group settled the case without admitting any wrongdoing.
Dahn Hak has plans to open more centers in the Boston area. Currently, the organization claims to have about 1,500 members in Massachusetts and 50,000 across the country.