If starting your own business sounds like a challenge, imagine becoming a founder of a life-changing non-profit in the midst of your turbulent 20’s. How would you maintain a clear mind and keep healthy habits while still rocking the community-serving career you’ve always dreamt of? After a meaningful chat with the New-York based founder of Yoga Foster, Nicole Cardoza, these questions were not only answered but exemplified with grace and self-affirmation.
Yoga Foster is a non-profit organization that brings yoga and mindfulness to the classroom, especially schools who would otherwise not have access. The company’s goal is to provide teachers with the tools necessary to implement wellness and self-care into their personal lives as well as provide children with the opportunity to practice movement and mindfulness at early learning stages. Cardoza started Yoga Foster in 2014 and, after making Forbes 30 under 30 list, working with lululemon and participating as a Tedx Speaker, she reminds us that the “proof is in the pudding.” In other words, Nicole’s accomplishments are not based on the above titles, but rather in the success of the work that she is doing. During an enlightening discussion with the young entrepreneur, Cardoza shared her experience as a woman of color creating her own organization, ways to practice take self-care during and after the workday, and how her program serves to change the lives of teachers and kids alike through simple mindfulness techniques.
For readers who haven’t heard of the work you’re doing, could you please introduce yourself and your organization?
Nicole: I’m the founder of Yoga Foster. My intention is to empower others with the tools to live a well life. I sometimes think wellness opportunities are limited and seen as a luxury instead of a need and a right. So my intention is to help change that and make it easier for people to tackle their own health. For starters, I am working on Yoga Foster.
So, how and when did you get into yoga as a mindfulness practice for yourself?
Nicole: I started practicing yoga when I was in college. It was the first thing I had, the first practice that I had, that made me feel like I was actually in control of my body. Moving to college was a difficult time for me and I had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life around that time. So being able to reconnect and ground myself into both who I am and who I want to be in a new space was very empowering for me and it was a practice that I never left.
Here at BAUCE we are constantly inspired by ways women can redefine success for themselves. What important factors helped you to make the switch from being the digital marketing strategist and tech expert that you were and dropping it all to become the founder of your own yoga org?
Nicole: I had an opportunity to join a non-profit accelerator program in order to start Yoga Foster and take it to scale. I think as a Black woman, it’s not often that many opportunities are handed to you in general, so when I knew that I had this chance to start something of my own and leave tech which I loved and felt very confident in, it was a no-brainer in the sense that I could give it a week and try it. I’m familiar with being broke [laughs]. I’m familiar with uncertainty. That just kind of comes with my life and so this idea of “risking it all” and leaving tech to start something I was passionate about wasn’t even a question. You know? The tech world will always be there and I think my skills will always be useful but it’s not often that I have time to invest in something that I’m passionate about.
It sounds as if this is an opportunity that sort of came your way. What would be your recommendations to people who are going through some of these complications of being broke, dealing with economic or family struggles, etc. for finding some of these opportunities?
Nicole: Oh gosh, I think it’s tough. I think in general people think that not coming from a financially stable or affluent background is a disadvantage, but yet, at the same time I spend a lot of time in the education space and what they’re talking about is how to foster resilience. I think if you have grown up in some cases… I wouldn’t say struggling… but if you’ve grown up with more challenges to help you to succeed every day, you already know what that is like and that’s one of the most important attributes as an entrepreneur that is oftentimes overlooked.
So. what I see from people that have similar backgrounds to mine who are trying to enter the field is that they feel like it’s not for them. They feel like because they don’t have the connections or the networks or the people behind them that they don’t belong and that, consequently, their work doesn’t matter. That’s a shame on two parts: Because one, I’m sure they’re really talented and amazing people and two, they can create change through the work that they do with the communities they know very intimately. And so I think doing it is what’s important. In terms of finding those resources, I think it’s just digging deep and talking to everybody that you can and never being afraid to ask questions or ask for a connection or ask for somebody to introduce you to somebody else. I also am a big proponent of cold emails to do it. Just reach out. You don’t have to wait for someone to open the door.
You started Yoga Foster in 2014, so how did it go from just an idea to a full-fledged organization with a team of directors, advisors, researchers, etc.?
Nicole: With a lot of intention. So many people have challenged me to make Yoga Foster something that it wasn’t. I think a lot of people were really interested in the idea that this could be a for-profit company that could make a lot of money which is something I never wanted out of it. I also wanted it to be something very community-oriented. Our intention is to pair local communities that care about wellness with the people in their community that don’t have access. Period.
And I know we do that through schools… but I think there are far more opportunities to really make a mindful interaction between those two spaces to help everybody grow. We’ve grown pretty quickly and have been able to bring on really great people but it’s about staying true to your intentions for the organization and what you want to see out of it while accepting that it might mean that you grow slower than the people around you. Or, it might mean that you have to struggle a little bit harder to make it happen. Thankfully, Yoga Foster is still the company that I wanted it to be two-and-a-half years ago today, and that’s what I pride ourselves in most in terms of “our success.”
So, as the founder of this nonprofit that you created from community building and through intentional acts, how did it go from a grassroots org to partnering with a high-end Yoga fashion company like lululemon and working with other big contributors as well? In other words, how have you been able to develop a partnership with some of these for-profit and well-known companies?
Nicole: I think in general if you have a true intention, it’s really easy to identify other people that are trying to do the same thing. What I like about our partners is that they’re also being really intentional with understanding the value that they can provide by extending these resources to communities. I think the lululemon, Here To Be Impact Program that we work with, has been built and designed to redefine what yoga and the power of practice can look like for people across the world…And that doesn’t mean that they’re wearing their [lululemon] pants to do it and I really respect that.
If you have a vision and a common goal of what you want to do, there are a ton of companies out there. There are always big companies with a lot of money wanting to do some good and invest in a company that’s willing to do it. It’s never about supply. Right? There are tons of opportunities. But what’s most important is that if you don’t know what you want to do and you can’t identify what the corporations around you are looking to offer, you’ll never be able to make that first connection.
I admire that you’re very choosey about who you partner with. I’ve witnessed that a lot of people jump to “expensive workout pants” when they think of lulu, but don’t always get to see when companies are also interested in investing in positive change through supporting organizations like yours, which seems to be a beautiful partnership.
Nicole: Yes, absolutely. And I think that especially as entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs of color, working in spaces right now that are very “hot” or “popular,” (and as we can all agree, the social justice side of diversity movement is very popular at the moment), I think more and more it’s easy for entrepreneurs to go astray and potentially create partnerships that don’t have the same intentions as their company. I think even now, for entrepreneurs, we have to be more fluent in the intentions of our company and the expectations that we have out of the partners we bring to the table because it’s very easy to be led astray and misrepresented.
As a woman, a woman of color, a self-starter, community liaison, businesswoman, healer and educator, how do you balance your own wellness while still handling your business?
Nicole: [Laughs] I think that’s one of the things I struggle with most. I mean tactically, I practice all the time. I take days off when I know I’m getting stressed. I limit how much time I spend in front of my screen and I try to be very proactive instead of reactive which is, in everyday business, quite difficult when you’re running a fast-growing startup. It is very easy to overreact to everything. But coming back to this idea of practice, doing the same thing I used to do for the first time I went on my yoga mat: checking back into my body and reclaiming my own space in the midst of who other people expect me to be and who I “have to be” as a founder.
It’s a consistent practice that we all do everyday if you do practice self-care and wellness. But that’s what makes me able to do this work. I think what makes me the founder that I am is that I have this practice so authentically tied to the work that we do. I’m grateful for that because if I wasn’t able to check back into my body and feel like it was mine, I wouldn’t be able to carry our work into the spaces that we have.
Now you got me thinking about how beneficial it would be to incorporate exercise and self-care techniques into my own career. At Yoga Foster, you do just that. I guess you couldn’t be teaching wellness strategies unless you were incorporating it in your normal and daily life as well?
Nicole: Right, it’s very hypocritical. And it doesn’t have to take that much time. I think a lot of people think that means you have to sign up to take an hour-and-a-half long, sweaty yoga classes in the Lower East Side but that’s not necessarily true! My yoga class can happen- I’m looking at my hotel room right now- and it can happen between two twin beds on a really ugly carpet. In California, it can happen. Or if you’re sitting on an airplane taking a redeye from one spot to another and you just fold your legs underneath you and take a couple of deep breaths. So it’s tied back to my work too. Let’s not make this seem like reconnecting with your body has to be sexy and expensive and social and Instagrammable. It has to be something you feel really comfortable with and is natural to do everyday.
To learn more about Nicole Cardoza’s effort and to support Yoga Foster, click here.