Nicole Cardoza is making the world a little bit nicer by bringing yoga to kids in schools and altering the face of wellness.
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. So Dahla focuses on destigmatizing the shame and guilt around money and offering 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.
Practice – Finding Abundance
Try this short meditation when you need a reminder that you are, and have, enough.
I come back to this meditation whenever I feel depleted in some way—from what’s happening in the world or on social media, or if I simply haven’t been able to cultivate the energy I need to get through the day. With this exercise, we remind ourselves of all the things that bring us joy, wonder, and awe. I hope you enjoy it.
First, find a comfortable seated position. Notice how your body feels, connected to the earth, in whichever way you choose, and allow yourself to be here, in this moment, in this breath. How does it feel to be here now? It may feel scary or uncomfortable or just right. Allow it to be without judgment, without shame. Notice how the present feels in your breath. Allow your breaths to be short and shallow, or long and deep. And as you breathe, notice if you have space for a little bit more air with every inhalation, perhaps drawing in and out through your nose. Give yourself permission to take in a little bit more air, and release it. Allow your breath to fill in through your nose, through your lungs, down into your belly, and then out again, exploring all of the space and capacity that you have.
Fill yourself with breath and then gently let it go. See if you can give yourself more time, allowing for a few more seconds to slow your inhalation and exhalation, making the most of each magical moment of breath.
Now with each inhalation, allow your body to fill the space around you, drawing up through the crown of your head, breathing into the widest parts of your shoulders. Allow your chest and belly to expand into the room. And with every exhalation, connect more deeply with the earth. Relax your muscles, soften your bones, and let the earth hold you a bit more with each breath out. Take a couple more breaths here. Allow your breath and body to fill the space inside and around you. Let this space help you to expand. If at any point you notice yourself thinking about tomorrow, or yesterday, just come back here, if only for a moment. You deserve every inch of this present space. Take a deep, full breath in and let a long, slow breath out. Again, take a big breath in, fill the space inside and out, and then exhale.
On your next breath in, think of something or someone who makes you feel full, rich, and whole. Imagine this person or thing in your mind, and notice how it makes you feel. Breathe it in. Draw it into every part of your being. Let it fill you from your chest to your belly to the top of your head and the sides of your shoulders. With every exhalation, let it sink in and move through you. If this feels good, take a few more breaths, allowing your body and breath to move with this experience, with the emotions. Let them all move through, savoring every second, right here, right now. Let each breath fill you like golden honey from a cup, your sunshine on a warm day. Draw it in with every breath, allowing it to settle with every exhalation. Take all the time you need here. Let yourself overflow. Notice how it feels to fill every part of you, even spaces that might feel empty or left behind.
At your own pace, slowly begin to move the parts of your body that feel ready. Perhaps wiggle your fingers, your toes, or your shoulders. Notice the sounds you hear. Notice if your body or breath feel different than they did before. Allow yourself to continue in the present moment, full and at ease.
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.