Imagine if all playground disputes were dissolved by group meditation and breath work. What if students could coach themselves and others through the stress of a big test with mindfulness techniques? How many fewer road-rage incidents and hostile Twitter rants would there be if elementary schools gave kids the tools to manage their emotions—to be kinder, wiser, more mindful, well-adjusted people—from the start?
That’s the environment Nicole Cardoza is cultivating through her nonprofit Yoga Foster, bringing yoga into elementary schools by offering teachers the training, lesson plans, and resources they need to practice with their students—many of whom come from low-income families and struggle with grown-up problems like hunger and sleep deprivation. “Yoga is a practice of self-inquiry,” Cardoza says. “And that’s not something that’s often taught to children or in schools.” But hopefully that will change. In just five years, more than 60,000 students in 2,500 classrooms across the United States have benefited from Yoga Foster—improving flexibility, strength, coordination, and concentration, and instilling a sense of calmness and relaxation.
“I love the idea of making yoga equitable and accessible from the get-go,” says the 30-year-old social entrepreneur, “so it isn’t introduced to future generations as something exclusive that comes with privilege—something that only certain people with certain bodies and financial capacities are able to practice.” Kids who take up yoga are much more wellness-conscious as they grow, she says: “They can then continue to advocate to make sure the practice remains as accessible as it was when they were in school and they did it between recess and reading in the afternoon.”
And that may be the crux of Cardoza’s work: She has a few more tricks up her sleeve when it comes to egalitarianism. Dahla, her money-positivity platform for women, offers resources for empowerment and financial freedom through workshops and curated editorial content. “My own relationship with money has caused me a significant amount of stress and anxiety,” she says. “I started practicing yoga when I was broke, living in New York City, and trying to get by as a student. Then I very quickly became the executive director of a nonprofit where my job is to ask people for money all the time! Plenty of factors were making me uncomfortable: not getting paid as much as my peers, my own social identity, and, historically, the way money has played a role in my family. I started interviewing women and I found that no matter how much they were making, they still had a lot of distress around wealth or lack thereof. It wasn’t just me." Dahla, she says, focuses on destigmatizing the shame and guilt around money and offers women opportunities to learn about personal finances.
And with money comes power and influence, Cardoza says, so she’s doing her best to help elevate diverse new leaders—particularly women and people of color. She recently launched Reclamation Ventures, a fund that will support people like herself who are eager to make it easier to access yoga, mindfulness, and additional wellness practices through products, spaces, and other initiatives. “I definitely think that a redistribution of wealth and capital in the industry can help diversify this practice,” she says. “There’s incredible potential for representing voices and perspectives that deserve to be heard.”
Reclamation Ventures is accepting applications for a $5,000 impact grant designed for what Nicole calls “an underestimated entrepreneur” who is working to close the wellness gap. For more information, to apply, or to make a donation, visit reclamationventures.co.
Try this meditation for abundance by Nicole Cardoza.
About our expert
Nicole Cardoza is a nomadic yoga teacher, social entrepreneur, wellness-reclamation pioneer, and nonprofit executive director. She travels the world building platforms that make wellness more accessible. In 2017, she made the Forbes “30 Under 30” list for her work in education. Find more meditations at nicoleacardoza.com.