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Local Hero: Bringing Yoga to Kids in the Classroom

 

New Hobby

It had her at om. The first time Nicole Cardoza tried yoga nine years ago, she knew she had found her passion. While attending college in New York City, she happened to walk by a yoga studio and decided to take a class. “I felt calm as soon as I sat on the mat, but it was more than that—I felt like I’d found myself,” she recalls. Nicole began volunteering as a yoga instructor at elementary schools and noticed how children instantly reaped the benefits, just as she had. “With their first deep breaths, they became centered and focused,” she says. “The whole energy of the room changed.”

An Idea Is Born

Nicole continued her volunteer work while pursuing a dual degree in business and advertising. By the time she graduated in 2011, Nicole, already thinking like a manager, realized there was a more efficient way to bring mindfulness to the classroom: have the teachers do it. When she wasn’t logging long hours as a mobile strategist at various ad agencies, Nicole started putting together an online yoga instruction training course that included how-to videos and downloadable lesson plans. “It’s a challenge teaching yoga in a classroom as opposed to a studio,” Nicole, 27, says. “The sessions had to be bite-size, simple and easy for teachers to squeeze into their hectic schedules.”

Tapping the network of schools and instructors she developed while volunteering, Nicole spread the news about her program. Soon excellent feedback started pouring in. Teachers, especially those in disadvantaged neighborhoods, told her attendance and test grades improved after incorporating just a few minutes of deep breathing and stretching before class. Nicole decided to take the plunge and establish her own nonprofit, which meant abandoning her promising career. “It was terrifying,” she says, “but I was on a mission.”

Positive Breakthrough

Since Nicole founded Yoga Foster in 2014, more than 800 instructors in lower-income Title I schools in 39 states have completed the free five-hour training course. Teachers learn how to conduct 10-minute sessions that help students recharge and refocus, whether before or after testing, when transitioning between subjects or anytime kids and adults need a quick pick-me-up. Instructors receive free mats, which are donated by individuals from yoga centers as well as businesses such as Lululemon, Yoga Foster’s most recent partner.

Today the nonprofit is expanding the resources it provides to families and communities outside the classroom. “It’s an incredible experience to sit with kids, have them share their favorite poses with you, and talk about how much better yoga makes them feel,” she says. “When everyone is calm and centered, great things can happen.”

For more information or to donate, go to yogafoster.org.