Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Dahn Yoga’s hardsell is a turnoff
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Dahn Yoga’s hardsell is a turnoff

For Christmas, I bought Erin a pass for 10 visits to Dahn Yoga, an international chain of yoga schools founded in Korea in the 1970s that has several locations in the Denver area. One is close by, and Erin was interested in taking yoga, so I walked in. I left with the gift certificate for Erin, and a slightly sour aftertaste about the place, because of the high-pressure way I was urged to spend more money for a higher package of classes.

I warned Erin that there was a little of “cult-like” feel about Dahn Yoga, but one of our good friends has been taking classes there for years at another location with the same instructor, so we figured it would be OK. Erin finally attended her first class last week, and also signed both of us up for a free class about brain health (Erin’s an expert on the brain, and loves to learn anything about it).

The brain class was this morning and I enjoyed it a lot. The instructor, Gloria, an effusive Korean woman who wears a beaming smile almost all the time, remembered me immediately and gave me a hug when I came in. The 1 1/2 hour class included lots of cool and I’m sure effective stretching exercises, as well as some exercises designed to help increase brain-body coordination and wake up the brain. I believe a lot of the class was both good for me and that the techniques we did were effective.

The group of students in the class were mostly veterans; one woman and I were the newcomers, and Erin had only attended one class. One woman had been with Dahn Yoga for three years; one man two years. The age of students ranged from the early 20s to 76. Everyone was nice, and every one smiled — Gloria kept urging everyone to smile even during the toughest stretches.

But afterwards, my good feelings for the class were forgotten. Gloria made a point of asking Erin and I to stay because she wanted to talk to us. She spoke of our friend who was her student, and how we were part of our friend’s “family.” She took us in a private room and I wondered if we were going to get a bonus training session. She had us do a couple of stretches, for which we were woefully out of shape, and I was sure she was going to give us some great one-on-one lessons.

That’s when it all changed. Although perfectly pleasant and still smiling, Gloria switched on the hardsell. She brought out a price sheet and a calculator and urged us to spend lots of money — up to $999 for a one-year membership, or $4,500 for a lifetime. I was taken aback because this didn’t match at all the expectation that had been set. She pointed out numbers, how much we’d save by buying a three- six- or one-year pass instead of the one-month or 10 visit pass that I had bought for Erin. She tossed out discounts, and told Erin she should upgrade her membership and that she’s credit er her current pass to the more expensive memberships.

It was the same pitch she had made to me before Christmas, only this time it came without warning after acting like she was our close friend. In fact, the feeling was comparable, I’m sure to being sold an expensive used car by someone you thought was a friend. I almost asked if she had to go and ask her supervisor to give us the discounted price, like the cliched script that’s always used at sleazy car dealerships.

The sad thing is, I liked the class and figured I should sign up because it would be good for me. But the sales pitch completely turned me off. I was uncomfortable and felt cornered and pressured. When I hesitated, Gloria pounced and said I was letting my left brain dictate my decision, and asked if I want to be healthy or not.

At one point I expressed my discomfort and Gloria immediately

I finally caved in and ended up buying the 10-visit deal so I could attend classes with Erin. But afterwards, I felt so scummy I think we’ll drop Dahn Yoga after the visits are used up. If I feel that yoga is a good thing to follow, we’ll find another (and probably less expensive) yoga class.

When I got home, I did what I should have done in the first place — research Dahn Yoga online.

I found a plethora of information and opinions, including ones that rave about the company and their practices, but also many sources online that claim, among other things, that:

– Dahn Yoga isn’t really teaching yoga (something Erin pointed out after her first visit) but a variant of qigong and tai chi.
– Dahn Yoga is often accused of being a cult.
– Dahn Yoga is being sued by the family of a woman who died while attending a training class for instructors.
– I’m not the first person to gripe about the high-pressure sales tactics. One yoga discussion board has a long thread of users who express their concerns about Dahn Yoga.

A site called has a ton of links to articles, reports and legal documents about Dahn Yoga ad related companies.

It’s worth noting that even detractors say the basic classes at the many Dahn Yoga centers across the country do teach exercises that are good for people and help promote health and relieve stress. It’s when members rise to the next level and are urged to attend classes at the company’s Sedona, Arizona headquarters and training center that the charges of cultism really rise.

I don’t think Gloria is insincere or phony — and I think she’s a terrific instructor and I admire her passion for Dahn Yoga. But there is something of the feel of cultism around even the strip-mall classroom. For me, the high-pressure sales pitch at the local level is enough to turn me off and keep me away after my 10 visits are up.