Investigation Uncovers A Lot More Than Healing And Peace
(CBS) NEW YORK — Tonight an Investigation into a Korean organization with dozens of yoga centers in the New York area. The group promises healing and peace. But some say it’s a high priced, dangerous cult. Reporter Joe Bergantino from our sister station WBZ in Boston investigates what this group is all about and what you should know before you sign up.
“I can’t believe she’s gone.”
Veronica Siverls Dunham is talking about her sister Julia, a 41-year-old professor who taught at Queensborough Community College. Her 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 at least 26 in New York and New Jersey.
But our investigation reveals there’s a lot more to Dahn Hak than just yoga.
“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,” said Robert Siverls, Julia’s brother.
According to a fellow hiker, 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. That same hiker says there were only three bottles of water for all five hikers making the all day trek.
Julia collapsed several times under the hot desert sun, but continued on at the urging of the group. She died on the mountain of dehydration .
Allen Siverl, Julia’s brother said, “To expose someone to the degree that they can ultimately die is madness.”
Julia’s family, also from New York, has filed an $84 million wrongful death lawsuit against Dahn Hak, accusing the group of engaging in brainwashing and lacing Julia’s food with drugs.
Charlotte Connors, a Dahn spokesperson said, “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 an organization that some experts say fits the model of a destructive cult, that’s torn apart families and has cost some members thousands of dollars.
Dahn Hak’s 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. He says his mission is to inspire 100 million “earth-humans” to join him in an enlightenment revolution. Lee refused requests for an interview.
Many of Lee’s followers start off simply, by getting a personal energy evaluation with a Dahn Hak master, like one our undercover producer went to in Manhattan
“You have no hot energy coming down to your toes … the circulation needs to be … I’ll explain after, just keep tapping your toes,” the master told our undercover producer.
Next come basic yoga classes. Then people are encouraged and pushed to go to workshops, retreats and healing sessions costing up to $10,000.
Freedom of Mind Center
Mind control expert Steve Hassan says Dahn Hak uses its yoga centers to lure people in. He’s formed his opinion after studying the group and for a fee, counseling former members.
“This is a totalitarian, authoritarian Korean cult that wants you to stop thinking and become a clone,” Hassan said.
Ari Laquidara said, “My experience is that this is a fantastic organization for holistic healing and wellness, we have some great programs.”
Laquidara runs a Dahn center in Massachusetts.
“It’s a way of life for me that I’ve chosen, that I love,” he said.
Ben Lucal had a different experience and left Dahn Hak after being a member for two months.
“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,” Lucal said.
Late Monday afternoon we received a letter from the Dahn Center Association saying Dahn Yoga training helps people channel their energy and the organization is the complete opposite of a cult. And they say there is no requirement to take a hike of any kind to become a Dahn Hak master.