As the Nosara Yoga Institute (NYI) celebrates its 20th anniversary and the opening of its hotel complex expansion, the organization also mourns the tragic passing of one of its earliest patrons.
In mid August, Nosara Yoga Institute Co-Founder Amba Stapleton published an emotional letter to her students and supporters on the personal impact of the death of comedian Robin Williams.
Williams and his wife were not only former pranassage clients (prannasage is a unique massage technique created by Stapleton, and her husband and NYI Co-Founder Don Stapleton, that combines both yoga and massage) but also Stapleton friends and supporters of the NYI.
VOG asked Stapleton for permission to publish her letter and to elaborate on the relationship she and the Institute had with Williams. She agreed. Her letter and an edited interview appear below.
VOG: NYI opened 20 years ago. Why did you decide to come to Costa Rica and open a yoga institute here?
Amba Stapleton: My mother discovered Costa Rica in 1967 and I came here as a child in summers. I lived in a yoga ashram for seven years and then moved to California. When I lived in Los Angeles, I would come back here to visit. And I found that my yoga practice was always better in Costa Rica. And then the contrast to Los Angeles is so drastic. I could always feel the benefits of yoga in Costa Rica.
So when Don and I came here at first we started with a Yoga Bed and Breakfast. We had always taught yoga, but also taught teachers. So in 2000 we bought my parents’ house and built the rancho for a place where we could train yoga teachers. You know they brought in materials in oxen carts to build the rancho at that time. A lot of people thought we were crazy but the Institute kept expanding.
VOG: What role did Robin Williams play in opening of the Institute and its early years?
Stapleton: When I went to LA, I had a catering job and a friend of mine in catering knew I taught yoga. Word got around and you know, entertainment is the industry there. Pretty soon I was teaching celebrities yoga in their homes. In the late 80’s yoga was a new thing. Yoga’s popularity was just starting. I traveled around to different movie sets and went in to people’s homes to teach them. Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson and others, but you know, I don’t like to drop names. So I got a call from Marsha Williams asking me to come to her house and that’s how I met Robin. I taught both of them. And we became friends.
So when we started the Yoga B and B, they supported us. And then again, when we bought my parents’ house and built the rancho and expanded to the full institute, they supported us again.
They both were really interested in supporting artists. Yoga is an art and they really loved supporting all the arts. In Marsha’s house all the curtains were artisan, woven from natural products. They were super generous people. Robin was a very humble person. You know, all that stuff you’ve been seeing and hearing on TV, it’s totally right. He was super generous, a really, really good person. He was very spiritual, a seeker.
VOG: Once you moved here and established NYI, did you get to see Robin and his wife much? Did they ever come here?
Stapleton: Yeah, we stayed in touch. They came down a few times. They had two kids and my son was about the same age. They came one Easter and we had a huge Easter egg hunt. Another time, we had a party for Robin’s 50th birthday here. We had a big party in the rancho and brought in music. We had a lot of fun.
After Robin and his wife divorced, we weren’t in touch as much. He hadn’t been back here in a long time.
VOG: Your letter mentioned a second financial contribution. How did Williams support you again? Did he contribute to your current expansion?
Stapleton: He and his wife supported us at the very beginning with the B and B and then when we bought the house and property and made it into a yoga school. Robin Williams was not involved in the recent expansion we just completed.
VOG: Is there anything from this partnership and supportive patronage with Robin Williams that you learned?
Stapleton: One thing I learned from Robin Williams was generosity. Because of him and his wife, I am much more generous in a similar way. Don and I try to help our staff members whenever we can. It’s a funny thing but I also learned about hospitality. They opened their home to a lot of people. They made it available to a lot of people but it wasn’t like they were entertaining all the time. You can be hospitable and have boundaries. It doesn’t have to be a burden to have people in your home. You can create community and be yourselves. They did that.
VOG: How are you reflecting on this sad loss? Is there anything from this tragedy that you’ve learned or are passing on to your students?
Stapleton: I have learned a lot from this tragedy. I have been thinking about it a lot. Robin’s life was always about bringing light to the shadows of humanity. Even in his death, he has shed light on the shadow of suicide. I get angry when people judge when someone commits suicide. Life is too complicated to figure out exactly what was going on for that person at that moment. It was a reminder that there can be immense pain in an individual. I think it has sensitized me more to other people’s pain. That it’s an area to look out for in people, be sensitive to.
VOG: Robin Williams will always be remembered as one of the greatest comedians ever. But what legacy does he leave for you and NYI?
Stapleton: I think it’s generosity. He was as generous to our Nosara Yoga Institute as he was to us personally. And to the San Francisco community. They supported San Francisco in a huge way. And I think his legacy also is about shedding light on the shadows, like in so many of the characters he portrayed in movies. Yoga should be about embracing our imperfections and in his vulnerability he did that.
Letter from Amba Stapleton About Robin Williams Death
Nosara Yoga Institute would not exist if it were not for the generous support of Robin Williams
I have been ringing our bell here at NYI all week just a little longer. Just a little louder. And with just a little more gratitude as I remember my friend Robin Williams.
I´ll never forget the first time I met him. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1988, I had been living at an Ashram for the previous seven years, so I had missed the whole Mork & Mindy thing. In 1990, I went to see a movie called “Dead Poets Society”. When I left the movie I thought, “Okay I´m in Celebrity land. If I were to teach yoga to a celebrity I would like most of all for it to be with Robin Williams.”
Two years later, I got a phone call from a Marsha Williams. I did not connect that she was the wife of Robin Williams. She asked me if I could give her yoga classes at home. So I went…and who comes to the driveway to greet me before I can even get out of the car.
Of course Robin. So humble, so kind.
A few weeks later I started teaching him as well.
As you might imagine, Robin made me laugh in every session. For example, we had so much fun with Pranayama- he said it reminded him of his college days when he had attended a few yoga classes in the middle of a few tokes.
During a Pranassage session I inadvertently dropped him. All he had to say as he was falling was “May Day! May Day!”
On a more serious note, when I decided to move to Costa Rica, I asked Marsha and Robin if I could borrow money to make the move. There was not a hesitation in their yes. Later, when Don and I decided to buy the property NYI is now on, I again asked the Williams for support, this time for a whole LOT more money. Their answer was a quick yes, of course.
NYI would never exist if Robin and Marsha Williams had not come down to visit us in our jungle home. They trusted in Don and me and believed in our dream and mission to generate yoga in the world.
Robin, I miss you. I regret that I was not there for you more. I am sorry that I did not have the communication skills or understanding of myself enough to be with you in a more meaningful way. But you will always be here with us. Your kind-hearted presence and your genius as a human being will always be a part of the legacy that every guest who walks in our gardens and grounds will be blessed by.
I will keep laughing in your honor.