By Jerome Burdi
Mark Kan’s reputation preceded him during my 500-hour teacher training at Dharma Yoga Center. Some of his students from London came to learn with Sri Dharma Mittra and they told me about how challenging Mark’s class was. It’s a good thing I like challenges.
Mark was one of the mentors during the training and offered a master class during it. The class was intense, a hail of inversions and a flow of physical postures that didn’t seem to stop. The class ended only because we ran out of time. Mark could have kept going. But myself and most others were ready for the sweet dreamless sleep of savasana, which was beautiful.
Though Mark’s classes are physically challenging, if you’re receptive, you can also pick up on the spirituality coming through the class. That’s because Mark, despite being as comfortable on his hands as he is his feet, is more than just the asanas. He’s a sadhaka who is extremely reverent and grateful to Sri Dhamra Mittra.
I caught up with Mark recently while he was in New York mentoring a 200-hour training at the center.
Q: How did your yoga journey begin?
A: My yoga journey began when my life was “in the meantime.” I was a little lost and I was disillusioned with my [graphic design] career and compensating that with a very disruptive social life.
My upbringing began in the Catholic tradition so I always had this spiritual seed that was planted but never really germinated because of things that happened when I was a young adult. My parents got ill and passed away when I was in my 20s and that was a difficult time. I lost my path and lost my faith. I ambled half way through my 30s just thinking I wanted to get by. That’s when I started to think I needed something else. Some colleagues I was working with were practicing yoga so I decided to give it a try.
Q: What did you find once you started yoga?
A: I felt like I needed more of a spiritual path. Unfortunately the teachers I was turning to weren’t that spiritual. It was asana focused but there was no one to guide me anywhere. I realized they had the same weaknesses as me. And I thought, ‘Where do we go from here?’
But I carried on with the practice. I practiced Sivananda Yoga, Ashtanga, Jivamukti, Bikram Yoga, I tried everything and I enjoyed the challenges that they brought. And then, very suddenly, my eldest brother died in his sleep. It was such a difficult time for me. I was really heartbroken. I was just lost for a whole year. I didn’t know who to turn to. There was no one to turn to except my siblings. We were all struggling to work out how this could have happened, why it happened. Who could do this to us?
One afternoon after practicing Bikram Yoga, I was browsing around their book shop and I came across the 608 asana book [by Sri Dharma Mittra]. I was just flicking through it and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a proper yogi.’ Just looking at the poses and seeing the message that was coming from the poses. You look at people doing asana now, and it’s very impressive, very gymnastic and graceful but with Dharma’s poses you just felt that power coming through them. And you just think, ‘Somebody’s worked very hard to get to that stage and he’s gone through every conceivable process to get there.’
But I thought he wasn’t alive anymore because the pictures looked old!
Shortly after, I was practicing Ashtanga Yoga and my teacher mentioned that Dharma Mittra was coming to London. I was really blown away by that. He was coming in February 2006. I booked the whole weekend on the basis of this book.
Q: What was it like to meet Sri Dharma?
A: I went and saw a short man, like myself, just wandering around, no ego there, just looking really quiet and content.
That day was a big turning point for me. Before he did any asanas, he sat everybody down and started talking about God dwelling in the right side of your heart. I’d been in such a dark place for so long because of my brother’s death. So it was just like somebody picking you up and holding you and saying everything was going to be alright. He switched a light on in a really dark heart. I felt everything was going to start be be OK as I sat and listened to him intensely. Up until that point I still ate meat and when he spoke about going vegetarian, it made so much sense. That evening I went home and there was chicken in the fridge and there was shrimp in the freezer. I just took it out and threw it in the bin and it’s never been back since.
Q: How was the practice?
A: The actual practice that day blew me away. I thought I was quite good at the time. I was in a room full of London’s most advanced yogis and it shocked me. As far as the asana goes, I thought, ‘That’s really challenged my ego.’ I realized if I want to develop my asanas, how far I needed to go.
Becoming a yoga teacher
After his fateful meeting with Sri Dharma, Mark went to northern India and spent time in the Sivananda ashram where he became certified as a yoga teacher. Upon returning to London, he still thought about Sri Dharma and felt a calling to practice with him again, which he did, in February 2008 for the 500-hour training. Mark said it was amazing practicing and learning with the sangha at the former Dharma Yoga East.
When Mark went back to London and started teaching Dharma Yoga, it was an instant hit. And it has continued to grow. There are now about 15 Dharma Yoga certified teachers teaching in the London area.
Mark usually practices two hours a day, channeling Sri Dharma through his asana, and it shows in his stunning practice and teachings.
“I’m still honored to be in his presence,” Mark said at the Dharma Yoga Center as the sun was shining through the windows. “Look at this city, look at what goes on and we’re all here. I could be out there doing anything but I just want to be here. That’s the measure of him.”
With a laugh, he added, “Another thing to end on is he never knows my name. He thinks I’m Mike from Hong Kong.”
Jerome Burdi is a Brooklyn native who discovered yoga during a shamanic retreat in Brazil in 2010. Since then, he’s been enveloped by the path of the yogi. He left his job as a newspaper journalist to go to Rishikesh, India, and become a yoga teacher. Upon returning to NYC, he discovered Dharma Yoga and has been hooked. Though Jerome grew up in NY, he had to go to India to come back and see Sri Dharma with clear eyes and to hear the truth that is Dharma Yoga. Jerome is also a Middle Eastern style percussionist and holistic nutritionist.