Ann Barros: Pioneering Yoga Practitioner in Bali, Made Famous in Eat Pray Love

The headline in the Good Times newspaper read: ” Beloved Bali Yoga:  How yoga maven Ann Barros became the creative catalyst in an enlightening Hollywood tale….   The article told the story well–we share it here, and we catch up with Ann to discover what came before and after this remarkable and quite deserving recognition, in her own words.

Beloved Bali Yoga: How yoga maven Ann Barros became the creative catalyst in an enlightening Hollywood tale [Cover Headline in local Santa Cruz, CA newspaper, Good Times]

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 has led Yoga in Bali retreats 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 with Ann’s help and with other women on the group, to ask for your help 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.

Ann-Barros-Yoga Bali-Eat-Pray-Love
Ann-Barros-Yoga Bali-Eat-Pray-Love

~That was November, 2009 as I was riding the wave of a fantastic upswing in my Bali Yoga business. All the buzz about the book, the fact that I am the yoga teacher in the best-selling book Eat Pray Love brought in a deluge of emails daily and more participants on my program than I’d seen in since the 90’s. Many women wanted to re-create the Elizabeth Gilbert experience, which put me in a moral dilemma: although I relished their enthusiasm and desire to join my program, I could not guarantee the same life altering epiphany that Gilbert experienced.
During that November, 2009 yoga retreat trip to Bali, Hollywood burst into Ubud, Bali, to film the movie verson of Eat Pray Love. In glamorizing the story, they portrayed Julia Roberts as Gilbert, just winging it, flying off to Bali, trusting the Universe that everything would unfold magically, because Bali is the island of the gods, the island of magic The American Hollywood film production was an eyesore and inconvenience for the Balinese villagers.: orange construction cones in the small village roads, blocking traffic. My Balinese friends exclaimed, ”Bibi,” (my longtime affectionate name in Balinese which means Auntie), “it is so crazy now in Ubud, we can’t pass by the road to go home on our motorbike, because the trucks and cones are blocking our way!”
Ketut Liyer, the infamous character in Liz’s tale has a nephew, Quil, my neighbor and friend, a talented artist and painter himself. My cell displayed his name: “Bibi! You should go over to my uncle’s house right now! My uncle is overwhelmed! The Hollywood people are there, with cameras and big voices. He would like to see you.”
So I had Made, (pronounced ‘mah – day’ the Balinese name for 2nd born), my trusted driver and guide for group excursions, take me there. Unsuspecting and patiently smiling Made, had to leave the car parked outside of the village road due to the barricade of orange cones, the caravan of Hollywood vans and equipment. As I approached Ketut’s house where I’ve frequented over the years, a tall, tanned California guy was standing arms crossed over his barrel chest: “Who are you?” He cowered down at m like the bouncer at the bar door.
“Well, I’m Ann Barros, I’m in the book! Did you read the book?”
I wasn’t allowed to go inside to see old Ketut; silly me for thinking that Hollywood wanted to depict the real story. The producer came out to talk to me outside on the doorstep, “Well, you know Ann, that Elizabeth gave artistic license to the screen writer, she sold the rights to the book for this movie”, pedantically adding, “this often happens when an author sells to a screen writer.”
So I marched away feeling rejected by Hollywood, but ever more committed to my career. I would continue to organize my retreats attracting the discriminating traveler seeking personal expertise and guidance into the real Bali.


Flashback to November, 2002~

“Aduh! Bibi, maybe we created this karma because we saw those 2 giant sea turtles washed up on the shore at Lebih beach last week and we killed them and then roasted and ate them. Now the gods are angry and they are shaking up Bali island to punish us for our greediness?!” ponders my little Balinese friend, Ketut whom I’ve known since she was a little girl. Now she works as a cook at the boutique hotel in Ubud, Bali, where I’ve been bringing yoga groups for many years. No other tourists except for my small group of 4 people are staying at the hotel. Eerily quiet.

It’s November, about a month after the October 12, 2002 terrorist bombing that struck a nightclub in Kuta.
Bali island is deserted. Six out of nine people on my personal retreat program cancelled within 48 hours of the terrorist bombing news. Thousands of visitors have canceled their trips to Bali and airlines honored full refunds amidst this international crisis. It shook up the whole island; its populace stunned at what mankind could intentionally do to one another. Ketut’s observation reflected the innocence of the Balinese people.

I had to come! I had to meet and talk with my Balinese friends, to see their friendly faces, hear their reactions, cry and pray with them. I trembled at the thought of not being able to continue coming again and again.

Bali has been my life since 1980, when I first set foot on the island directly after an intensive yoga training with Shri B.K.S. Iyengar in India. I was 31. I had an around the world ticket with time to spare, so after the Yoga Intensive which transformed my spine and my career plans, I spontaneously booked a flight to Bali to reflect, to practice yoga on this Hindu island, and to ingest the yoga experience before returning to the West to pursue a professional dance career.
…Or maybe I should change my career plans and become an Iyengar certified yoga instructor? I decided to use this time to meditate on it.

I arrived at the small Denpasar, Bali airport, an open-air hangar where we passengers departed and walked across the airfield to the terminal. The rush of warm tropical air wrapped me in rapture. A free tourist visa was stamped into my passport by the welcoming immigration officer, good for 60 days. Wow, everybody is so friendly! And such beautiful brown faces! And so welcoming! I decided I’d stay for a month.

I sat at the one and only tea stall on the beach, on a wooden bench watching the splendid sunset over the sea in Legian, a quiet beach village with only one home-stay, aptly named “Annie’s”. Legian is one of the most highly congested tourist beach areas now in Bali, but in 1980 it was magical.

“I’ll show you the real Bali up north in the terraced rice field village of Ubud. Want to jump on the back of my motorbike? We can drive up there after sunset this evening”. This wooing invitation by David, a handsome American man doing import business in Indonesia, was too hard to resist. We arrived in Champuan where only fireflies lit the tropical night darkness filled with strange exotic cricket and frog chirps. I fell in love with the Champuan village immediately. I vowed to myself that I would figure out a way to return to this beloved island filled with magic for the rest of my life.

And so 5 years later, in 1985, I organized my very first Yoga in Bali retreat program. Eighteen people signed up to join me in Bali, mostly my local Santa Cruz yoga students, and my Mom who supported me in my yoga quest and career wholeheartedly. “Teaching yoga is a much better choice, Ann, than trying to dance professionally” she mused, “You’ll be able to teach yoga for the rest of your life if you want!”


And so on and on it went; I studied advanced teacher training regularly while in California, driving to San Francisco to experience brilliant senior teachers in the Iyengar tradition. From 1985 to 1990, I organized the yearly February retreat program to Bali. In 1990, I added the July retreat program, hungry to return to the magical island and the experience of meeting great yoga folks from all over the world. In 2000, I added the third retreat program per year, in November. At some point along the way, I started counting my trips to Bali; and have now completed 70 successful Yoga In Bali retreats over the course of 30 years!

“Oh, Ann, you will be good at anything you do because you are so organized!” my sweet mothers’ words echoed in me to proceed onward through good years and bad. My mother was always my best friend and biggest fan. With the confidence inherent in my being, I plowed on. I enjoy being self-employed, being my own boss which has been my mode of operation for all these wonderful years. I have abundant gratitude to the Universe for supporting me and whenever I receive another inquiry to join my retreat program, or even one of my local classes, I run on the beach chanting “Thank you! Thank you! Keep it coming!” in a rapture of appreciation.

Gardening is another great passion in my life besides yoga, walking on the beach and returning to Bali as often as possible. In 1998, I spontaneously started a bamboo wind chime garden accessories business. I enjoyed the soothing sounds from the chimes that I brought back from Bali hanging outside in my garden. Soon my students asked to purchase them because they enjoyed the serenade outside our yoga classes in my garage converted yoga studio in my other paradise home on the California coastline. Soon this passion grew to selling to garden nurseries in nearby upscale areas. I received enthusiastic response and an order for 50 chimes, which I confidently said I could deliver.

“Hey, Mom, what are you doing next week? Want to go to Bali with me, just for about 10 days while I have 50+ bamboo wind chimes produced and help me bring them back?!”

“Sure!” she exclaimed with glee, “I love those Balinese people, they are so nice and they flattered me so!”

We had a great trip, my dearest Mom and me, relaxing every day with friends, receiving traditional massages, and savoring tasty local cuisine while the chime order was being produced. My little wind chime business was lots of fun and flowed for several years. When the economy slowed down, I was ready to let the wholesale business go.

The constant in my life has always been and remains – Yoga. I am fortunately, (and thankfully to my mother), naturally flexible. But it’s always been so much more than the flexibility to me. I love helping people understand their bodies. I loved my anatomy training and enjoy teaching in a very precise, anatomical approach. It is rewarding to me to experience a small class of yoga students releasing tensions and stress related kinks of pain in their bodies, and breaking through fear barriers in challenging yoga poses.


As of 2015, I have paid off my home mortgage in full! This has been my goal of a lifetime. Imagine a self-employed yoga instructor owning her own beach home property free and clear. I was fortunate to purchase my beach home during a lull in housing pricing in 1993. I am so proud to have accomplished this goal and – I did it my way. I jokingly tell my brother and close friends, that the Frank Sinatra song “I Did It My Way” should be played at my memorial.

I am an avid believer in the Law of Attraction. It reminds me that I attract what I think about. I want a peaceful, joyous, spiritually uplifting life sustaining myself through my work and my art. My work and my home are my art. I desire a constant flow of Well-Being in my life and to enrich other’s lives by being in my presence, my home, my yoga classes and my Bali retreats.

The next upcoming Yoga In Bali retreat with Ann is February 10-21, 2018. Please visit


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