Dahn Yoga Voice

Michela’s Rolling Stone Letter

Posted on: 03/22/2010

Dear Mr. Dana,

I’m writing to you as a concerned reader of Rolling Stone, and a former employee and current practitioner of Dahn Yoga. I am also writing as someone who trained, lived, and worked in the Boston Dahn Yoga Centers with many of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit currently pending against the company and other defendants. I now work for the publishing company that produces Ilchi Lee’s books, so I definitely have a vested interest in the article you have published.

Rolling Stone is an icon in our culture. What you say has weight, even with critical, discerning, and intelligent people. I really appreciate the personal perspectives and the exclusive insights that Rolling Stone provides in its stories. They make the story engaging and really come alive. And I understand that since the plaintiffs came to you first, that you would be most interested, attracted to, and sympathetic to their story. I also know that you can’t fit every bit of information available into one magazine article. Also, the words “cult” and “lawsuit” help sell magazines. The press so far around the lawsuit against Dahn Yoga, Ilchi Lee, and other defendants has primarily focused on the perspective of the plaintiffs, with some “the big organization denies everything” thrown in to give a semblance of fairness. This situation is a testament to the sad state of the media today.  Despite what you have published I’d like to share with you another side of the story than the plaintiffs portray—a side that they once shared actually. And a side that is equally compelling in a different way.

To give you some background information, I took some of my Dahn Yoga training with Nina and Liza Miller, Alana Lee, Ariadne Nevin, Julia Simonson, and Alexa Krieger. I’ve lived with Alana, Ariadne, Michael Starace, Lily Christian, and Karina Rosario. I took workshops at which Heather Cleary and Heather Simeral were trainers. I worked at Lucie Vogel’s center for 4 months from December 2006 to March 2007, along with Cherie Mar and Lily Christian, and briefly with Meredith Potter.

I don’t know if you can imagine my dismay when I heard about and then read the claims in the lawsuit. Because I knew them and talked to them, even after they left Dahn Yoga, I was very aware of their opinions and feelings, both when they were involved and when they left. Understandably, there was a progressive change. Understandably, there is a time of searching and transition, and even pain, when you leave something you put so much energy into. I never held any resentment toward them or anyone else who has left, and generally we all respected each other’s opinions. But then, at some point someone decided Ilchi Lee and Dahn Yoga were such a pox on humanity that they needed to be destroyed. Hence they filed a lawsuit and started the real war—that of the media. And that is where we can’t agree to disagree. Fortunately, the weakness of their claims became apparent when 8 out of 10 claims in the lawsuit were dismissed.

My position is that Dahn Yoga is doing a lot of good in the world. People can debate about methods—for profit, non-profit, general aid, helping one person at a time. But to me, it all boils down to: there’s a lot of good in this company—too much for disagreement, cultural misunderstanding, and even accusations as serious as sexual assault, to destroy.

I’ve read the stuff on the internet, I know what it was like to work in the Dahn Yoga centers in Boston and take the training, and I’ve talked to many people both for and against the training and the system. I’m no less informed than the plaintiffs. And yet, I’m still here. Doesn’t that make you ask why? Aren’t you a bit curious?  Would you really take the label of brainwashing and accept it and generically apply it to the many thousands of people who happen to agree with Ilchi Lee’s philosophy? That doesn’t sound critical, skeptical, or intelligent to me.

I can feel absolutely positive that at every step in my training and my decision making that I weighed the pros and cons, that I knew what I was getting into and what it would cost. Doesn’t it mean anything that with open eyes I chose to stay when others have left? I am a Cornell University graduate who majored in Neurobiology and Behavior. I worked in a neurophysiology lab for four years at Weill Cornell Medical College and attended a master’s program in Health Communication at Emerson College. My friends and family can confirm that I’m an intelligent person. Why then, are my choices less worthy then theirs? Why then is something I agree with and believe in being labeled as dangerous, scary, and delusional?

One reason may be that it just doesn’t look the same on the outside as most other things in our society. The Asian system of training and growth is very different from our Western concepts of “the way it should be”. So it seems, if you don’t want to get married, have kids, and make as much money as you can, you’re crazy and someone must be manipulating you? If you think that you need a lot of people working together to make any kind of difference in the world, you’re part of a cult? If you believe that there is hope for the world and want to contribute what you have to a group that gave you that hope, that tries to help people be stronger and happier and loving on an individual level as well as a global level and provides a supportive network to do it, you’re all naïve and crazy? You must be brainwashed!

As far as money is concerned, I never took out a loan and then just handed the money over to the company. I did use loans to pay for Dahn Mu Do School and Dahn Healer School because I wanted to take those programs sooner rather than later. But I knew what that meant for my personal finances and decided it was worth it. No one pushed me. They made suggestions, and then I decided what I wanted. I take full responsibility for it.

Well, if you want edgy, how about people having the guts to stand up for hope and love in the world even when it’s not popular, even if the world thinks that they’re crazy and points fingers at them and calls them a cult? You’re Rolling Stone. Write about the revolution in consciousness that is taking place around the world and of which Dahn Yoga is a part. Isn’t that more exciting than “disgruntled employees vs. a cult”? Isn’t that going to help the world more than a supposed expose` about sexual assault and “brainwashing”? I dare you to look deeper than the surface, to use your gut, and to follow your heart.

Much of the information you report contains distortions as well as outright lies. The plaintiffs say we were encouraged to cut ties from my family. Actually, they and I kept in touch with my family. I went to NY to visit during holidays. I would call my mother as often as I did before I started my Dahn training. When she died, I went home for the wake and the funeral and received a lot of support from my fellow instructors. The regional manager said that I should not take instructor training unless I “made harmony” with my family first. While I went home to visit, for one holiday the Dahn Centers in Boston even invited all of the instructors’ families to get together for a party. It was before my time, but at one point Dahn Yoga encouraged and gave extra money for instructors to save to give to their parents, and I know people in Boston who did that. Actually, it’s still a policy in Korea.

Those of us who have worked for Dahn Yoga have received a lot of personal and intangible rewards in return, rewards that are not talked about when ex-employees complain about instructors “volunteering” too much time. And the managers in the centers are given a lot of latitude about how they use their time. The difficult part of working in a Dahn Yoga center, in my opinion, comes from trying to create a successful business—especially one based on holistic health that is not supported by most insurance companies and depends on people’s discretionary income and commitment to putting in the work to heal themselves. But I don’t think that is strange, suspicious, or wrong. Dahn Yoga employees are rare and amazing people. Your reporter should have taken the time to find out more about them.

I am sincerely disappointed that you did not look at this story through more than one lens. I trust that the writers and editors on your staff are flexible and creative enough to do that, but have sadly chosen not to.

Michela Mangiaracina

1 Response to "Michela’s Rolling Stone Letter"

Q. What’s that you say? Dahn Yoga is a cult?
Q. What exactly do they do there?
Q. They stretch, breath deeply, hug, make their bodies strong and flexible, care for the earth and all of it’s citizens?
Q. That’s it!
Q. Where do I sign?

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