Denver Rocky Mountain News (CO), February 1999
Last week Dennison’s after-school program initiated a seven-week dahn-hak series for 46 six-to 8-year olds. “What we want for the children is resiliency, self-control and self-discipline,” Urioste says. “We really want to see what kind of a positive impact this will have on their self-esteem, their well-being, their happiness, and obviously we want to see if this will have any effect on their achievement.”During Wednesday’s class, the instructors held the children’s attention for the entire hour. They placed the students in a circle and ran them through different poses intended to develop eye-hand coordination. Sitting, standing and moving, the children worked on flexibility and balance. They stood face to face and mirrored each other’s movements. “They loved putting their little fists out into the air like a salute,” Urioste says. “They liked doing the same thing with their feet.” The result was exactly what Urioste had hoped for. “Why they left the gym, they weren’t running-they were walking,” she says. “They were a lot more calm because they were releasing stress from their bodies.”
According to dahn philosophy, the guiding force of life is the body’s energy, or Ki. Illnesses or injuries happen when the body’s ki is blocked. Dahn Yoga instructors use meditation, dance and other movement to keep the body’s ki flowing. They also are skilled in acupressure therapy, using touch to release tension in various body parts. Koreans practice Dahn Yoga on a daily basis. A typical class lasts an hour, beginning with a 20-minute warm-up including breathing and stretching exercises and ending with deep meditation.
Hanne Strong of Crestone has traveled the world as a writer and companion to her husband, Maurice, undersecretary general of the United Nations. A year and a half ago she went to Korea to investigate dahn-hak, now she practices it daily and was instrumental in bringing the center to Denver. The origins of yoga and tai chi trace back to dahn-hak, she explains. “I decided it’s the best thing I would ever come across in preventive health and self-care, which is the name of the game in health care. You can’t afford to get sick,” she says.
The system works to establish and maintain the body’s harmony with nature, says Mee Baek of the Dahn Yoga center in Denver. People lose their natural harmony through everyday stress. “Most important for relaxation are harmony, concentration and movement,” Baek says. “By using simple movements, we make a connection between body and mind.” There are nine levels of dahn-hak. Students of all abilities, even pregnant women, can participate together, modifying their movements according to their expertise. Success hinges on the student’s ability to relax. “If they don’t relax their body, they can’t relax their mind,” Baek says.
The system may be useful as a preventive, but it is not a cure-all, says Dr. Milt hammerly, medical director of complementary and alternative medicine for Centura Health in Denver. The philosophy of dahn-hak “sounds compatible with the theories of Chinese medicine and ayurvedic (Indian) medicine in terms of energy balance and flow,” he says. Hammerly likes the idea that dahn-hak enhances the body’s energy through exercise and movement, but he says it shouldn’t take the place of conventional medicine. “I certainly wouldn’t call it a panacea that will be the cure to everything,” he says.
The studios at the Dahn Yoga Center are simply appointed. The floors are covered with a spongy “red earth” floor that Koreans consider healthful. Students and instructors are shoeless. They wear the roomy white jackets and pants of the uniform or their own loose clothing. Strong says she sees the results of Dahn Yoga in her body and her life: “This develops the mental and the spiritual and the physical. It gets your heart rate in tiptop shape, and everything is limber.”