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In 2012, Nicole Cardoza was volunteering at P.S. 140 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan through a community initiative. When school staff learned that she practiced yoga, they approached her about sharing the practice with students. “They were looking for a way to stir the kids to move without needing a gym or going outside,” Cardoza says. Although she wasn’t a trained yoga teacher, she’d been practicing since college and found that yoga “was the first thing I did that made me feel at home in my body,” she says. “It made me feel like I was enough.”
Cardoza began teaching yoga to third- and fourth-graders in hopes that it would help them feel comfortable in their bodies, too, and give them time when they didn’t have to worry about bullying, issues with their teachers, or what would happen when they went home. After a few months, both the school and Cardoza saw that the students were more present and focused in class and performing better on tests. Teachers began saying they wished they could bring yoga to more kids.
A light bulb went off for Cardoza: She began hosting trainings for teachers in New York City and founded Yoga Foster. Two years later, she left her job in tech to focus solely on Yoga Foster and to bring yoga to more elementary and middle schools where gym classes and recess were being cut. “We really do have a health crisis happening in our country,” she says. “Giving kids the opportunity to move and breathe can be really powerful.”
In 2016, Cardoza completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training through YogaWorks, and Yoga Foster went online to reach even more people. A self-paced course for teachers on the website is like a condensed 200-hour yoga training, Cardoza explains. Through videos, audio recordings, and visual slides, educators learn the foundations of yoga and mindfulness and how to integrate the curriculum into their daily schedules.
There’s instruction on using props and modifications to make asana available to all bodies and physical abilities. And teachers also learn about the developmental stages of youth. For example, children have smaller lungs, so a meditation app made for adults may leave them out of breath.
Lastly, the training includes a unit on self-care that gives educators tools for their own practices. “We can’t ignore the teachers. They are overworked, underpaid, and stressed, and they don’t get a chance to move,” Cardoza says. “We help them model mindful behavior.”
Donation-based classes across the country provide most of the revenue for Yoga Foster, which can then offer its training for free or at low cost. Those who complete the training get access to full lesson plans and online resources and receive free, gently used mats that Yoga Foster collects.
Teachers often use the Yoga Foster curriculum as a mindful moment in the morning, during the transition before or after lunch, or in after-school programs. “The students feel much more present and aware, and awareness is the first step to be able to make a change in the classroom and outside of it socially and emotionally,” Cardoza says.
AT A GLANCE
Yoga Foster founder: Nicole Cardoza
- Website: yogafoster.org
- 50 states that Yoga Foster–trained educators work in
- 530 schools reached
- 2,500 teachers trained
- 8,000 mats donated
- $20 donation to bring yoga to one student for a full school year
About our expert
Nicole Cardoza is a teacher and entrepreneur who travels the world building platforms that make wellness more accessible. Find more meditations at nicoleacardoza.com.