How yoga maven Ann Barros became the creative catalyst in an enlightening Hollywood tale
In October 2006, Ann Barros took a walk to the beach and a neighbor called out to her, “You’re in this book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’” And indeed she was. On page 221 in the book, author Elizabeth Gilbert tells a medicine man in Indonesia:
“I don’t think you remember me, Ketut. I was here two years ago with an American Yoga teacher, a woman who lived in Bali for many years.”
He smiles, elated, “I know Ann Barros!”
“That’s right. Ann Barros is the Yoga teacher’s name. But I’m Liz. I came here asking for your help once because I wanted to get closer to God. You drew me a magic picture.”
Ketut Liyer, an old Indonesian man whom people visit for spiritual and personal guidance, had painted a picture for Gilbert when she visited Bali in 2002 on a Yoga retreat led by Barros, a long-time Santa Cruz yoga teacher.
Barros spearheads several of these retreats every year, and they include twice-daily yoga classes, tours of Bali, special activities including visiting this medicine man, and much more.
“Liz called me in 2002 and wanted to go on my July program,” Barros says. “She was living in New York and working as a writer. Allure magazine said they would pay for her trip if she wrote an article. I booked her airfare out of JFK and she showed up with everyone else (for the two-week retreat).
“There were 10 people there and she started taking a consensus of who was divorced,” Barros adds. “She was broken-hearted and quite preoccupied with this recent heartbreak. Eight of the 10 (in the group) were divorced.”
In the entertaining, inspiring, captivating and best-selling book, “Eat, Pray, Love,” the reader learns that Gilbert had gone through a divorce and needed to get away, find herself, and find God. Her divorce, the pain from it, and the lessons she learned, serve as the backdrop to the book, as she eats her way through Italy, prays her way through India, and searches for God and for love in Indonesia. Barros introduced Gilbert to Bali and Gilbert returned there a few years later to document her experience—that second trip is told in “Eat, Pray, Love.”
But back to the first trip: “Liz was extremely entertaining,” Barros says. “She had the gift of gab. She’d break into a story and have everyone in stitches. It was a delight to have her.
“I took four American women including Liz [to Ketut Liyer], and they started to tell their stories,” Barros says. “There was an outpouring of emotion, myriad issues that were very important to them.”
During the visit, the women shared their stories with the healer and he drew each of them a picture of a deity, to address their specific issues. “When it was Liz’s turn, tears were really flowing, she was desperately seeking some comfort or recognition for being OK that she would meet someone else. He did a drawing for her called ‘Love Magic.’”
Barros goes on to explain that over her 23 years of taking trips to Bali, only about 50 people have actually gone to visit Ketut Liyer, and of those, only a handful have found that it’s been a life-changing experience. For Gilbert, the moment was unforgettable and she asked the old man if she could return to apprentice with him.
“I didn’t think she was serious,” Barros said. But two years later, she found out just how serious Gilbert was.
Barros leads a pack of yoginis through plush parts of Bali.
Barros was on another yoga retreat in Bali in 2004, ushering in a new batch of spiritually and culturally curious students to the lush greenery and serene environment. Walking along a road one day, she happened upon a former student—Gilbert, the brokenhearted gal from two years prior. They agreed to meet for a meal and catch up.
Later, they did just that at a place called the Dirty Duck Diner, “a wonderful little restaurant, where these ducks ran through the newly tiled white floor and left their prints,” Barros says, explaining the quirky name of the restaurant.
“She’d been seeing Ketut Liyer,” Barros says, referencing what happened on page 221 of “Eat, Pray, Love.” “She said she was engaged in writing a book about three countries, Italy, India and Indonesia.” It was then that Gilbert asked if she could mention Barros in the book, to which Barros agreed.
Ann Barros in Half Lotus Tree Two years passed and then came that day when Barros walked down to the beach from her home, and her neighbor called out to her about her name being in “Eat, Pray, Love.”
“I was really impressed that she followed through to see Ketut. They parted ways and Gilbert went on to complete the Indonesia portion of her book, and Barros headed home, back to Santa Cruz where she has been teaching Iyengar Yoga classes for years in her quiet, peaceful, clean and cozy studio on 26th Avenue.
Santa Cruz and Bali
It wasn’t long before the e-mails started pouring in to Barros, as the book started to take off. Some were from people hoping to recreate their own ‘Elizabeth Gilbert story.’ Others were seeking wisdom or inspiration. And others wanted to go to Bali, or try out a local yoga class from a long-time teacher. “Some were broken-hearted, had their heart on their sleeve,” Barros says. “It put me in a little bit of a moral dilemma because I couldn’t guarantee that they were going to have Liz’s experience. That’s what they wanted, to take a year off and heal their broken heart, and how fascinating and other worldly is that?”
Barros in her Eastside Santa Cruz yoga studio
The two women ran into each other again in Bali in late 2006, when the book was beginning to hit its stride. By this point, Gilbert was now with her new husband (whom readers can learn more about in the Indonesia section of the book). She told Barros that she would send her a hard copy immediately, and when Barros returned to Santa Cruz she received her book with the inscription, “Thank you for being part of destiny.”
These days, according to Barros’ friends who ran into Gilbert, she and her husband are living on the East Coast, running an import business. Gilbert is due to have another book out in January, 2010, about what happened after “Eat, Pray, Love,” with a focus on the love and marriage part. The book is called, “Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage.”
Currently, as this article goes to press, Barros is prepping for another yoga retreat to Bali in November. She’ll lead another one in February, 2010, and then again in July and November of 2010. And when she’s there this November, there’s the possibility that she could serendipitously cross paths (or just miss crossing paths) with actress Julia Roberts, who has recently been in Bali, playing the role of Elizabeth Gilbert in the movie version of “Eat, Pray, Love.” According to imdb.com, the film is slated to come out in 2010, and it also stars actors James Franco, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup and Viola Davis. No word yet on if someone will be playing Ann Barros.
“I took four American women including Liz [to Ketut Liyer], and they started to tell their stories. There was an outpouring of emotion, myriad issues that were very important to them.”—ANN BARROS
Regardless, Barros plans to continue traveling there, year after year, after year. “It’s very therapeutic to be around the Balinese people,” Barros says. “… I love the friendliness of the people in Bali, the humor and their spirituality.”
She keeps these trips up every year as a way for people to see this otherworld, the beauty, the laughter, the spiritual elements there, and of course, the Yoga, of which she’s been a practitioner since the mid-1970s.
Barros got her start in Yoga all those years ago when she had problems with her back. She had attended UC Santa Cruz and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in dance, but the back problems were plaguing here. At age 27, her sister recommended she take a trip to India to study Iyengar Yoga there, with a teacher who would “straighten out her spine.” And that’s exactly what she did. “I showed up and said, I want to study with you,” Barros says. And so she did for six months, and she says that experience not only changed her back, but also her career plan, her spirituality and her outlook on life.
Returning home, she went to San Francisco and studied Iyengar Yoga there for four years, and became certified. Iyengar Yoga, as described by Barros, is “classical poses … which give priority to lengthening the spine, with more time spent on body alignment.”
She went on to fulfill a teaching position at UCSC as a yoga instructor, and then returned to India for further training. By then, she was ready for something different. “I needed to go somewhere, an island that was quiet,” Barros says. “I didn’t know anything about Bali, but I knew that’s where I wanted to go. … I fell in love with the island and the people and made a secret vow to come back to that place for the rest of my life.”
In 1986 she began to share her experience with others by way of these Bali Yoga tours. This trip in November will mark her 53rd trip there.
Having lived in Santa Cruz since the early 1970s, and living part-time in Bali every year, the multi-cultural experience creates a balance for Barros. She has a work/yoga studio there that she maintains, as well as one here on the Eastside of Santa Cruz, where she also has a residence that oozes Balinese culture. Much of the outdoors and indoor décor were imported here from Bali.
There’s simplicity to Barros’ home and studio—it’s peaceful and quiet, smelling of wood and incense, welcoming a visitor to sit, drink a cup of ginger tea, and genuinely relax.
In The Now
Barros holds small group classes at her studio in Santa Cruz on Tuesdays and Saturdays. (See below for times and rates.) Like another writer before me (Gilbert), I ask Barros for some yoga instruction. I don’t have the availability to check out for a year and go on an adventure, but I do have one afternoon, so we meet at Barros’ studio on 26th Avenue for a session together. Keep in mind that I have relatively little Yoga experience except for a few classes at the gym, where the instructors don’t have the time to check everyone’s posture.
Already knowing that I’m likely rather stiff in the shoulder area because of my job as a scribe, Barros starts off with what’s called Shoulder-Opener at Wall, where we try two different types of stretches, that, shocker, actually work. I feel loosened up. Impressive.
We move on as the time ticks away, with each pose being a wee bit more challenging. We do the Door-Jam Shoulder Opener, the Downward-Upward Facing Dog Pose with Chair, the Chest-Opener with Chair, the Hands-In-Namaste, and finally, we do something I never thought I’d do, or was capable of doing—the Supported Headstand with Two Chairs at Wall pose. With this one, it’s like a headstand, except your neck and shoulders are supported on both sides by chairs. Your legs go straight up behind you (with the help of Barros of course). And at one point, when I’ve finally summoned up enough courage to push my legs where they belong up behind me, Barros carefully lets go, just for a few seconds, and I realize what Yoga could do for me—conquer fear.
For writer Elizabeth Gilbert, it helped her find God, find herself, and find love. For Barros, Yoga has fundamentally changed her life, too. Not only did it put her name in a best-selling memoir, but “it gave me a different sense of expectations,” she says. “In other words, attachment, judgment, all those things dropped away.” Now that is a way to eat, pray, and love.
For more information about Ann Barros, her local Yoga classes, or her Bali retreats, visit baliyoga.com or call 475-8738. There will be a Bali retreat Feb. 9-23 and July 14-28. A 10 percent discount will be offered to Santa Cruz County residents for the February program. Barros teaches group yoga classes from 10:30 a.m. to noon, and 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, and 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays at her studio in Santa Cruz. (Private sessions are also available.) Classes are $20/class/drop-in rate, or $15/class at a monthly rate.