On his way home from work one day in October 2007, Alexandria resident Andrew Myers entered the Dahn Yoga Center on King Street to learn more about the martial arts video showing on the storefront TV.
On October 13, eager to find a new hobby and rid himself of the pain lingering from an old baseball injury, the 1998 T.C. Williams graduate paid $1,290 for a years membership.
Before that year was over, though, Myers had quit his job as a city appraiser, went thousands of dollars into debt and apparently needed an intervention to extricate himself of Dahn Yoga, which his family and others in cases around the country had come to see as a cult.
In response to his tribulations, Myers filed a civil fraud and racketeering lawsuit last month in U.S. District Court against Dahn Yoga, its founder Ilchi Lee and several other affiliated groups, seeking at least $950,000 in damages.
The complaint alleges that the defendants took part in a scheme to defraud plaintiff Myers and others similarly situated through false promises of healing, self-awareness, and brain education.
By using thought reform exercises designed to deprive [Myers] and others of independent, rational thought, the Dahn-affiliated defendants had coerced people into devoting their time and money to further the financial interests of Ilchi Lee and the Dahn Organization, court documents stated.
The story and lawsuit are similar to and intertwined with a case reported on in an issue of Rolling Stone published last month.
I want to help others who have been manipulated by Dahn Yoga, Myers said in a written statement. I learned the hard way that contrary to their public statements, [Dahn Yoga] is not an organization dedicated to healthy exercise and lifestyle but one that operates a scheme that identifies vulnerable people and uses sophisticated techniques to defraud them.
In a written response to the civil complaint posted on the website dahnyogavoice.com, Joseph Alexander, the corporate spokesman for Dahn Yoga, said the company categorically denies the allegations, calling it a copycat suit to pending legal action in Arizona.
After more than a year of therapy for, among other things, a diagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder, the former baseball standout at T.C. and Franklin and Marshall College is now beginning to put his life back together, according his mother, Christine Myers.
The reason why is clear to those around him.
It is a cult, Christine said. Weve done a lot of research. Our initial worry about him led us to looking on the internet and talking to everyone we could find that knew anything about cults.
According to court documents, about four months into his Dahn experience Myers participated in a community service trip to the Pacific Northwest.
When he returned, his mother said he was a very different person, quitting his job with the city and devoting more and more of his time to studying and working for Dahn Yoga at its King Street location and at others in the region.
He became disinterested in anything hed done before, Christine said. He was sort of like a zombie. He just waded through his day when he was with us.
He wanted money, he needed money for them. He tried to get us to give him money, tried to get us to cosign loans came up with lists of people who might give him $10,000 it was not reality-based.
Myerss lawsuit alleges that the group recruited him to become a Dahn master and pressured him to pay more money for more classes, healing sessions and retreats.
According to the complaint, Dahn pressures its customers, members, and employees to relinquish control of all aspects of their lives to the Dahn Organization and its Masters. The cumulative effect is intense psychological pressure to accept and conform to the teachings of the Dahn Organization, which the Dahn Organization then exploits for its own financial gain.
The groups website, dahnyoga.com, offers information about the brain education program, which Alexander said cannot be considered brainwashing as Myers claims occurred in his case.
An employee at the Dahn shop on King Street said he wasnt allowed to speak on the record about what the goes on at the facility, deferring comment to Alexander.
Its very easy to misconstrue a lot of our training because of the cultural differences, Alexander said, citing Dahns origin in Korea.
Just because people dont really understand a lot about the brain and about the process of using the brain and the mind-body connection, it doesnt mean that were doing something mysterious, Alexander said.
We dont change anybody its about what you choose, he said. The key to both of these lawsuits is that they made the choices. The idea that we change someones brain or that we change the way someone thinks thats impossible.
Roselyn Nechesa, a customer leaving the King Street center after her session Tuesday night, said that a Dahn exercise helps her feel and sleep better after a stressful day of work.
What I do in this class, its just exercise, she said. I dont see how it could be a cult. Maybe the private lessons might have something, but not in this kind of class.
The complaint has been served to most of the eight defendants, according to Jennifer Short, Myerss lead attorney, who is awaiting the due responses from each that will determine the next stage of the case.