It was supposed to be an intense six-day retreat, called the "Spiritual Warrior," the culmination of their guru's teachings, to be capped by an intense sweat lodge "re-birthing" on the final day.
Instead, for three of the more than 50 participants at the Sedona, Ariz., retreat -- mostly high-achieving professionals -- the spiritual journey would end in death, when a ceremonial ritual became too hot to bear. In addition to the three fatalities, about 20 people were hospitalized.
Guru James Arthur Ray, then one of the biggest names in the $11 billion self-help industry, faces charges in Arizona for three counts of manslaughter in the October 2009 deaths.
Watch the full story Tuesday on "Primetime: Mind Games" at 10 p.m. ET
His was a spectacular rise and fall.
While self-help has been around for decades, the movement exploded in 2006, when the publication of a modest book and DVD called, "The Secret" became a cultural phenomenon, with Ray as one of its featured speakers.
"That is such a seminal event in modern day self-help,'' said Steve Salerno, author of "Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless."
"What had heretofore been looked at just kind of new agey... stuff could now be mainstream."
The secret behind "The Secret" is something called, "The Law of Attraction."
"Everything that is coming into your life, you are attracting into your life,'' explains Bob Proctor, a self-help leader featured in the film, "The Secret."
"And it's attracted to you by the virtue of the images you are holding in your mind."
As "The Secret's" sales boomed, Ray was catapulted into the self-help stratosphere. His book "Harmonic Wealth" became a best-sellers, and he started popping up all over, on Larry King, as a judge at the Miss America pageant and on Oprah, who enthusiastically embraced"The Secret."
Ray preached the message that the universe is infinitely abundant -- a real-life Aladdin's lamp for anybody in the right mindset to rub at will.
"And the genie always says one thing, "Your wish is my command,'' said Ray, in "The Secret."
In an interview with ABC's Dan Harris in 2007, Ray said, "In simple terms, if you are thinking, feeling and acting broke, then you're never gonna attract prosperity into your life. Conversely, if you're constantly thinking, feeling, acting healthy and whole then you are going to attract and create that in your life."
On "Oprah," he said, "You've got to think it and act on it."
"The Secret" is filled with fables about people "attracting" things like bicycles, sports cars, and necklaces -- through the power of their thoughts.
Ray, who liked to call himself a "thought leader,'' lead his 50 or so followers last October through five days of intense limit-pushing exercises in the days leading up to the deadly sweat lodge incident. Participants paid close to $10,000.
On day one, Ray gathered his followers around and dared them to "Play full-on,'' according to Melinda Martin, a former realtor who had worked for Ray for about a year and coordinated the event.
Ray, she said, told the followers that in the past three years, 49 women had shaved their heads at the event, "'Who was going to be number 50?'" he said, as Martin recalled. And before he'd even completed his question, participants were running up the hill to find the scissors.