THE FIRST SHOCK I receive upon meeting Sunder Jivan is that he is about as Indian as I am. I had expected, perhaps naively, that a teacher of 'sacred gymnastics' from the free-loving commune of the late Bhagwan Sree Rajneesh in the city of Pune in Maharashtra - particularly a teacher with a name like Sunder Jivan - would be some sort of loose-limbed, dark-skinned, saffron-wrapped sadhu. Instead, I'm greeted by a skinny bloke with a beard and posh London vowels who, after some prompting, admits his real name is Michael. He changed his name after taking a vow of sannyass - renouncing material possessions - when he joined the Bhagwan's commune 20 years ago. (It's a concept which the Bhagwan, or Osho, as his followers now call him, never seemed fully to grasp, given his palatial quarters and fleet of 93 Rolls-Royces.) It was on the commune, in Maharashtra state, that Jivan first saw a performance of Gurdjieff Movements and was immediately smitten. 'Gurdjieff Movements are a kind of sacred dance gymnastics,' he explains as he sinks to the floor and gracefully folds his legs into the lotus position. Lumberingly, in a painful attempt to get into the spirit, I attempt to follow suit, settling for what could be politely called a half-lotus. 'Unlike most dance forms, which are a purely aesthetic or artistic experience, these movements are more concerned with the spiritual-mystical experience - to bring about a higher state of consciousness and awareness,' he says. 'The dance becomes a meditation.' Jivan has been in Hong Kong to spread the Gurdjieff gospel at the behest of Eostre, a new Tsim Sha Tsui 'spiritual growth' centre responsible for a steady stream of chakra checkers and crystal botherers coursing through Hong Kong in recent months. Named after the ancient German goddess of spring, Eostre perches on the 20th floor of a new tower in Knutsford Terrace and offers a bewildering range of life-enhancing courses, therapy sessions, spiritual and new age classes. Everything from reiki to tarot reading is covered. Including, for the duration of Jivan's recent stay, Gurdjieff Movements. A little digging reveals that George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff was quite a character: an Armenian doctor and priest who rejected the wisdom of the West and, following extensive travels, proclaimed himself a mystic with the key to the secrets of the Orient. A cross between Rasputin and Martha Graham, he bewitched the shiftless aristocracy of post-World War I Europe with his theories on dance and enlightenment. His legacy, since his death in 1949, comprises his dances and the hypnotic, dream-like music and chanting that accompanies them (co-written with Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann), several volumes of philosophical ramblings and a scattering of arcane semi-secret societies. During his life, however, the artistic and intellectual elite flocked to his chateau at Fontainebleau, near Paris. One of his staunchest followers was the New Zealand-born short-story writer Katherine Mansfield, who died amid scandal after he tried to cure her of tuberculosis by having her lie on a couch suspended in a cattle barn. Others influenced by his work include jazz legend Keith Jarrett, writers Aldous Huxley and Arthur Koestler, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Robert Fripp of progressive rock band King Crimson. Some reports link him to the shadowy Searchers After Truth, whose members supposedly included top Nazis, and assert that it was Gurdjieff who suggested the inverted swastika to Nazi ideologue Karl Haushofer as an emblem. Gurdjieff was also the subject of a 1979 Peter Brook film, Meetings With Remarkable Men. Says Jivan: 'I had only vaguely heard of him as this bloke who made you dig holes and fill them in again. But when I saw these dances the effect they had on me was extraordinary. I felt I just had to learn them. The first time I performed them, I had what I call a real experiential taste of meditation. I thought I already understood what meditation meant but I realised I only understood it intellectually.' Jivan says he immersed himself in Gurdjieff Movements and began helping as a teacher at the commune, or ashram, as he prefers to call it. 'I began to do a lot of research and later on I took over as the main teacher. From about eight dances we had in our possession, we now have more than 150.' Gurdjieff writes that he learned the dances at a monastery called Samroung, which he stumbled upon while travelling blindfolded. This sounds rather far-fetched, given that no one has ever heard of this monastery before or since. 'Well, I think it's meant to be an allegory,' says Jivan. 'There is one story that in fact he created all the dances himself. When you read accounts of life with Gurdjieff by his pupils, in many ways he was a real joker. His writings may sound rather dry and complex but as a man he seemed to be full of life. He loved to cook and eat and drink. He would get his pupils drunk as a way of working with them.' The dances themselves are quite difficult for first-timers. Jivan demonstrates some of the simple moves, providing a running commentary. 'There are things like patting your head and rubbing your stomach, or having one arm circling one way as the other circles the other way but twice as fast. Or you have the legs moving to one beat and pattern while the arms are doing something totally different.' He reaches over and pushes the play button on a VCR. Drums thump and chants drone as a band of fierce-eyed, moustachioed dervishes whirl and turn. 'This is the ending of Meetings With Remarkable Men,' says Jivan. 'You can see the more advanced dances are really quite complex.' I feel mesmerised just watching. There's definitely something compelling about the movements. 'It's what we call movement in depth,' he says, 'movement towards our source, towards the centre of our being. It's the combination of highly structured, precise postures, multiple rhythms to follow and complex sets of sequences that engage the mind as well as the body. 'Some of the movements are reminiscent of what we see in Chinese and Indian dancing, some more like what we see in Egyptian hieroglyphics or on Greek vases. And some are drawn from Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. 'Gurdjieff talks about man being unconscious, a robot, an automaton. So one thing in the dances is that they go totally against our natural way of moving. By altering the way we hold ourselves physically we can affect our thought processes and our neurology.' Not recommended, then, for people with two left feet? 'Well, we start off with the simpler stuff,' he says. 'Generally all you need is four working limbs and a head. In a weekend workshop, like I'm doing here, you can only teach the easier dances. In Pune, I teach a six-week intensive course that gets on to the more difficult dances.' Jivan says his class in Hong Kong was about 20-strong, mostly Chinese women. 'It's new to people here. In Taiwan, it's very big. Also in Israel I teach huge groups and it's going well in England and in Germany.' He spends about six months of the year at the commune and six months travelling and teaching. Jivan insists he is not bothered by some of the more sinister rumours, such as Gurdjieff's Nazi associations. 'I'm aware that's always been a bit questionable because it's known that during the war, his larder in Paris was always full of luxury goods. But I can't imagine he would have been sympathetic to such people. He just knew how to play them. 'I think with Gurdjieff, at the time he was teaching - in the 20s, 30s and 40s - the world wasn't ready for him. If he had appeared now, or in the 70s like Osho did, when there was a huge need for this kind of teaching, people would have got it. Coming when he did, Gurdjieff only appealed to a few artists and intellectuals. He was ahead of his time.' Jivan says tens of thousands of followers visit the commune at Pune each year and Gurdjieff Movements is a popular course at its 'multiversity'. He also believes the Bhagwan's influence has grown, not waned, since the guru 'left his body' 10 years ago. Back when he was plain old Michael, Jivan studied drama in London and worked for a time directing fringe shows. 'I even came to Hong Kong as technical director with the Young Vic when they did King Lear,' he recalls. After meeting the Bhagwan on a trip to India, however, his ambition dropped away. 'I would call myself a neo-sannyasin,' he says. 'Osho says we can still be in the world, in the marketplace, but not of it. Any fool can go and sit in a cave in the Himalayas and think they've achieved enlightenment because it's quiet and beautiful. 'Real meditation is about bringing a meditative quality to your life, whether you're in the middle of New York, Bombay or Hong Kong.'