[0:03] Rachel: Welcome to a brand new episode of the Yoga Girl podcast, Conversations From the Heart. Today, we are welcoming to the show an amazing woman in the wellness industry, Nicole Cardoza. Nicole is a social entrepreneur, investor, yoga teacher and public speaker. She’s the founder of Yoga Foster, a non-profit that provides teachers with free yoga and mindfulness tools to use in their classrooms, as well as Reclamation Ventures, a fund that invests in making wellness more accessible. Nicole is paving the way towards making yoga and healing tools available to everyone, especially communities that need it the most. Welcome to the show Nicole!
Nicole: Thank you so much for having me.
Rachel: I am so excited to have you on the show. So, speaking from the heart right here, right now, how are you doing?
[0:51] Nicole: I’m good! I’m feeling very energized and focussed, so I’m good. I also have been working a lot for the past few weeks, and so I made a commitment to myself this week to prioritize my self-care this weekend, and so I’m very much looking forward to that. How are you?
Rachel: I’m good, I’m a little bit sick, like I have a bit of a sore throat right now, which is funny; it’s funny to me how, I don’t know if it is quarantine and this whole switch of pace that, that so many of us have had, but I’m in a place where I’m so sensitive to stress. Immediately I have one stressful day, and then my body tells me, and I’m like “okay…”
Nicole: Yeah [laughs].
Rachel: “…I’ll go back to baking.” [Laughs] Have you had that in terms of switch of pace?
[1:36] Nicole: You know, I have. I’ve been maybe three times busier than I was before COVID, and I, I don’t know how many people have felt that way, being less busy or more busy, but my work has significantly increased. So I’m trying to figure out how [laughs] to take care of myself with everything that’s happening, right? It’s been a very traumatic past three months, four months with everything going on. So less baking, I need to do more of that [laughs] I really need to create more space for myself to be well.
Rachel: But you do so much, I mean I want to, I want to start by thanking you for the Anti-Racism Daily newsletter; could you share a little bit about that, in case anyone listening hasn’t subscribed yet? Because it’s teaching me so much, and I recognize it must be so much work…
Nicole: Yeah, thank you.
Rachel: …to put this together every day.
[2:25] Nicole: I started something called the Anti-Racism Daily, it’s a daily newsletter that covers critical issues in relationship to racism and systemic oppression. It every day gives you a tangible action to help, help dismantle that. So I started that in June in response to the protests and a lot of my community asking, “what can I do, what can I do to help?” And now we have almost a hundred thousand subscribers, and it’s cool to see how much is changing, locally and nationally, because of people showing up every day. So we’ve been raising funds for regional aide programs, signing petitions to take down statues, you name it. So yeah, it’s been, it’s been a labor of love, and it’s been taking a lot of time, but I’m very excited for where it can go.
[3:12] Rachel: I mean it’s really beautiful, the effort that you’re putting into this, it’s, it’s, it’s powerful to see from afar. Are you, were you always, you know, a go-getter in this sense? I feel like you’re juggling so many projects, or like you see a problem and them immediately you take, not just a bit of action, but this is a huge, huge undertaking. Have you alway had this…
Nicole: You know…
Nicole: …I don’t know, I, somebody just asked me that, you know, just a friend, and I was, I’ve always been an entrepreneur in one way or another, and I’ve always been interested in solving problems. I…when I was younger, I used to love these logic puzzles that you could do as a kid; do you know what those are? I never knew the name for them until recently. You know…
Rachel: Logic puzzles? No, what’s that?
[3:57] Nicole …I used to do them when I was a kid, and they’re these kinds of like, they’re almost like a riddle, you kind of have to find out, “there’s seven people, and they have seven dogs, and each of those dogs have seven names,” and you kind of have to put all the pieces together based off of some clues that they give you, that like, you know, “Jen owns Buster and he’s a German Shepard,” [laughs] sound really [inaudible], but…
Nicole: …I used to be fascinated with these puzzles and trying to deduce like, “alright, how do I put all of these pieces together?” And I think me loving them so much is very indicative of my work is, you know, if I see something that looks interesting and challenging, and if I feel like I have the tools to fix it — because there are a lot of things I don’t know [laughs] — I really enjoy, it’s a, it’s a creative expression for me to figure things out.
[4:43] Rachel: Yeah, it’s like everything is, is, is figureoutable. Have you read that book by Marie Forleo?
Nicole: No, but I should [laughs].
Rachel: Yeah, you, you come across that way, like, “here’s a problem, okay, let’s get to it.” But in terms of anti-racism work, is this something you’ve been doing for a long time, or is it inspired by the protests and the movement of this year?
Nicole: I think working in anti-racism a lot through my wellness work, although it wasn’t a direct thing, you know? I started my non-profit that brings yoga to schools now over six years ago, and that’s really been analyzing like, the wellness gap. and there’s so much of the inequities in wellness in American in particular that are embedded in racism, and also being a Black woman running businesses, you experience a lot of racism day in, day out, so anti-racist work has been a part of my work, whether I choose it or not, right? I wouldn’t have said that that was the subject that I was focussing on, right? So although the Anti-Racism Daily is the first thing that I launched that has anti-racism in the subject line, it certainly is indicative of just how I’ve been navigating through life over the past few years, and obviously as a Black woman my entire life.
[5:56] Rachel: I think that the first time that I came across your, your presence on social media was with the Yoga Journal, I don’t even know what to call it, the debacle, the controversy. And I’m pretty sure that a lot of people have, have heard of it by now, but I find it, what I find most inspiring about that is what you created out of that struggle, or out of that controversy. Do you want to share a little bit about how that came to be, the story there?
Nicole: Yeah, you know, Yoga Journal was the thing I think that put me quote, unquote on the map for a lot of people when they asked our community to vote whether I should be on the cover of their magazine, and put me side by side with Catherine Budig, who’s a White woman who’s also fantastic by the way, but another, you know, able-bodied, smaller sized woman in the space. And they sent me an e-mail and they told me they had pushed that study because they were worried that my cover wouldn’t sell.
[6:51] Rachel: And did they, was this, was this normal practice? Because this I don’t know so much about; is this something that magazines do…
Nicole: So cover texts…
Nicole: …are common, but usually they happen with the same model on the cover. So, you know, they, Yoga Journal had done them in the past…
Nicole: …where they asked people “do you want Sara Clark,” for example, who’s an incredible teacher, “do you want to see her on the cover sitting down, or do you want to see her on the cover in, you know, warrior two,” or whatever. You know…
Nicole: …with my case, they had shot, you know, we’d shot three different covers, three different options in my shoot, but they chose to put me against other people. And, you know, they’ve done, when Jessamyn Stanley was on the cover, without telling her they did a split cover with another person without even getting to the cover test, so they do have history in de-prioritizing and discriminating against Black people on their covers, so.
[7:46] Rachel: I mean, and what did that feel like? That must have been so incredibly, you know…because you were already done, right? You had the shoot, everything must have been a big…
Rachel: …exciting thing, you know, to have a, to have a cover for them. What was it like to find out that not only were they debating whether or not to move forward, but putting you up against a White woman in that way?
[8:04] Nicole: Yeah, it was, you know, it was really…I felt really, like ashamed and guilty, which, you know, is really, it says a lot about like how racism persists, because I internalized that and I felt at first that it was my fault that I wasn’t pretty enough, that I shouldn’t have worn my hair that way, all this, you know, shame and guilt that I’ve carried in White-dominated spaces as a young kid, and how I’ve always felt like I didn’t belong, or I wasn’t good enough, that was just presented to me, you know, face to face. And it’s so indicative of how trauma settles in the body because I, you know, walk through life and I think I’ve got my stuff together, and I’m doing my practices, and I’m going to therapy, and then when that happened, you know, I remember, I was at work and I had my whole team, we were working on a big project that was launching the next day, and I just remember it completely gutting me. And I reverted back to like, the middle schooler in the cafeteria who never…
Nicole: felt like she was good enough. So it was really, it was really hard.
[9:14] Rachel: Hmm. No, I can, I can only imagine. What happened after this? Was it immediate? Did you respond to them somehow immediately, or was it something that was sort of lingering for awhile?
Nicole: It lingered for a couple of days, you know? I, I responded to the brand and told them like how harmful that was, and didn’t receive a response. And, you know, sat with it over the course of, I don’t know, maybe the weekend, a couple of days after — this was over a year ago now — but I sat with it for a few days, and ultimately I decided to post about it on Instagram because it was just so indicative of stories that I think many people of color and other marginalized groups have experienced in the wellness industry. And it’s not just my story. So I shared it because I wanted everybody to know like how much this happens. Yoga Journal was such a blatant act of it, right, like to have two pictures side by side circulating online, that’s pretty…
[10:10] Rachel: Right.
Nicole: …that’s pretty blatant. But there’s so much more subtle racism that is happening behind that scenes that prevents people from being seen, from being heard, from being celebrated but also being respected for the caliber of their worth. You know, the Yoga Journal thing was so insidious to me because they we still planning on running my cover story and featuring my non-profit and all of the work that I do, their debate was whether or not my picture should have been on the cover. So that’s extremely damaging to me…
Rachel: Unbelievable, yeah.
Nicole: …because like Catherine Budig is an incredible teacher and has incredible stories; it would have been different if it was like looking at “how do we feature these two great stories during this time of year, and then maybe the next person’s on the cover after,” but that certainly wasn’t the case.
[11:01] Rachel: I had a Yoga Journal cover a couple of years ago, and this was before this, but even then I remember that feeling of “there’s so much that isn’t right with this publication, with this organization,” and it was more under the surface, little things had surfaced here and there, and they had a new advisory board, I think, to try and be better…. And I had this feeling of “oh, this is such a big milestone for any yoga teacher,” it’s like, “of course it’s a big thing…”
Rachel: “…it’s Yoga Journal,” you know. But I remember not feeling a hundred percent with it, and it’s just baffling to me how it seems like every decision they have made since then has led from bad to worse. How hard is it…
Rachel: …to do this right? I mean to, to take some real, real, real action, to repair what’s been harmful in the past and to…
Rachel: …change how they move forward. What do you think is, you know, because I feel like especially in the yoga world is so unique in this sense, and it took me awhile to actually, to open my eyes to how, how big of an issue this is, how deep of an issue this is. Because I was, you know, in my White-skinned, woman, able-bodied woman, super privileged, never thought twice…
[12:09] Nicole: Mmm.
Rachel: …of “why is this so easy for me?” It was really easy for me to become a teacher, to grow a platform, to teach internat…all these things…
Rachel: …just kind of happened, you know? And I’m a little ashamed at how long it took me to actually recognize, you know, how many of my teachers were non-White? Who did I learn from, where did they learn this? And basically most of what I’ve learned in yoga has been passed down to me from White people. So of course [laughs] of course, you know, it’s, it’s not equitable here, where I’m sitting right now. But why do you think that this is so, you know, prevalent specifically…what makes the yoga world unique in terms of it being so White-centered when it comes to, to this, not just the industry, but the community?
[12:52] Nicole: Yeah, you know, there’s the yoga, like, practice and then there’s the yoga industry, right? And I just think there’s…
Nicole: …such an egregious gap between them, like where this practice comes from, what it’s, what it represents, and how it’s been packaged and commodified, particularly in America but I can see, you know, similar trends across the world. And I’m not sure how we, it got here, but I do think a lot of it is rooted in what the America’s definition of wellness is, what America’s definition of wellness has always been, because we’ve seen similar patterns of discrimination and harm in other, you know, other either wellness practices, even like when you think about running, or other sports that are designed for like, a less of an athlete, competitive environment.
[13:39] Nicole: And I think a lot of it comes through like, for White women it’s like what does it mean to be, a beautiful, what does it mean to be like this perfect, idealized woman in America that’s really been rooted in White-ness, and it’s been rooted in having, like, the right body, and the right skin, and so I think that’s a big part of it: it’s like the yoga community here has really been like, built around some of those societal expectations of, of White women. And so when that happens, right, the expectations of everybody else kind of fall by the wayside, who’ve even been participating in that system. And so much of the culture, you know, and the deep lineage of the practice is de-prioritized to “how do we get people to focus on that idealized body, and focus on the idealized mindset without needing the rest,” you know? So I think that’s part of it.
Nicole: And, you know, now…and that, that’s been happening over time, I’m not just talking about like, you know, [laughing] the past couple of months or the past couple of years, because I think…
[14:44] Rachel: Of course.
Nicole: …so many of us in this industry are working hard to change that. And rallying against that norm. But it becomes particularly insidious in our industry because this industry is all about healing, and all about making people feel better, and hopefully providing practices that can help with the messiness, right? The, the heaviness of the world that we live in. And so when these opportunities are packaged and delivered in that way, but don’t represent [laughs] the people that need it most, that’s where you start seeing this gap, right? You know, it’s ironic I think right now that we’ve had, we have two pandemics right now that are at the top of our minds: racism and COVID. And both of those pandemics focus heavily on the breath, right? You have George Floyd…
[15:35] Rachel: Right, right.
Nicole: …saying over 20 times, “I can’t breathe,” you have COVID literally taking people’s breath away, leading to complications with the lungs. We focus so much on breathing in the yoga industry, we emphasize that, and we’re doing that in an environment where people don’t even personally have the chance to inhale and exhale on their own terms, so. That was a lot. That was a…[inaudible].
Rachel: No, no, it’s, it’s, it’s so important for all of us to open our eyes to the reality that’s always been there, because of course this isn’t something that just happened this year, you know, it’s something that’s culminating this year, that’s maybe becoming more overt this year, but it’s been there…
Rachel: …beneath the surface all along. But so what was it like for you, you know? Tell me a little bit about how you, how did you find yoga, and what was it like to take that step into teaching?
[16:24] Nicole: Yeah, I found yoga when I moved to New York City when I was like, 18, and I just went because a bunch of people I know were going to this class, and I said “sure, why not?” And I didn’t expect anything out of it; I was very lucky that my first yoga class and my first yoga experience, incredibly impactful. And I say this a lot, because my definition of this is evolving, but it really felt like I was at home in my body for the first time. I was experiencing a lot of anxiety and stress; I had never known how to cope with that, I didn’t even know how to name that. I had moved to a new city, it was feeling quite unfamiliar, and I, you know, have been constantly navigating like White-dominated spaces my whole life, and have felt this kind of constant sensation that I don’t belong. And I know all of this now, [laughing] like I wasn’t thinking about this the first time I got on the mat, but…
[17:22] Rachel: Hmm.
Nicole: …looking back at how I felt in my body and how I feel in my body now through this practice, it was a reclamation of coming home in my body, and acknowledging that like, my body exists in spaces where I might not feel safe, but I can find a sense of safety and a sense of calm right here. So, that’s how I started, and then around the time, I was volunteering in schools and different after-school programs around New York City, one of them wanted to start a yoga program, so I helped bring that together, and brought in volunteer teachers, and started teaching myself, and got to see what this practice can do for, you know, kids that had a similar upbringing like me, who are having, you know, similar experiences that I did when I was a kid, and that was the moment where I realized like, “this is a truly transformational practice.” And can be for so many people who are often left out of that conversation.
[18:12] Rachel: Right. And, I mean so many, so many people are. It always [sighs] I, I always grappled with, you know, for the, the communities that need this practice the absolute most, the people that need this kind of healing, you know, this coming back home to their bodies, this breath, these tools, that’s not where we see the yoga studios, you know? That’s not where we see the teachers, that’s not where these practices are shared widely. I mean, I’m from Sweden, so it’s a little bit different there, and I live in Aruba so our community’s different here also, the yoga community. But in Sweden, yoga is the most, it’s such, it’s such an expensive thing, to go take a yoga class. And all the studios are only in the upscale, you know, whitest neighborhoods, and that’s just, that’s just what it is, you know, the idea of, of, of yoga in the suburbs, or yoga in the schools, or yoga in other communities, it’s just not, it’s just not present in any way. And it’s heartbreaking to see how, how, you know, someone who opened my eyes to this really in a way that, that, that hit me to my core that I think about all the time is Susanna Barkataki, so she, she’s a teacher on our platform. And she told me a story about her aunt, who is an Indian woman who’s, you know, born into yoga, practiced yoga her entire life; it’s her culture, her roots, her entire, you know, ancestry lies in this practice that we are all borrowing over here in the, in the West, and how she, you know, after living in the States, felt like there’s no yoga studio she can go to and feel like she, like she belongs. So she doesn’t practice…
[19:49] Nicole: Right.
Rachel: …in studios, she stays at home. And there was something about that, that, that story of that just…I, I don’t know, it touched me in a place that I can’t believe that I haven’t had my eyes open to this…
Rachel: …prior to this. And yes, it is true, not just in Sweden, but also in the US, you know; Aruba’s hard to compare because everything is so, so, so small, but how can we, how can we change this, you know, in a real, real way? Because there’s a lot of amazing initiatives, and campaigns, and projects and things sprouting now, but the big companies, you know, the big chains of studios, the, the famous teachers, the schools, the people that make the money in the industry, it’s still centered around the White teachers and the White practitioners in the space. How, how, how do we go about changing that?
[20:37] Nicole: I think the first thing, and you’ve mentioned this, is you know, we can’t change what we don’t know. And so the awareness is really key, like how can we all continue to listen to voices that have been marginalized in this space, and then amplify them with the platforms that we have. We don’t even have to fully understand, right? Like we need to listen and learn as much as possible, but if you’re listening to this and you’re not fully understanding it, doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to share voices that are having these conversations, and it doesn’t mean to shy away from these conversations. So I think that’s first.
[21:14] Nicole: And then what’s interesting now with COVID, which is devastating and obviously causing so much harm, is that it’s disrupting this space, and so what we’re seeing is an opportunity not to lean on these big box, multi-million dollar brands in the yoga space, and start to craft a practice that is more inclusive, and more diverse, and more centered around people that have been systemically left out, so it’s a good opportunity if you’re listening, to dive into what are different teachers that are offering practices that you might not have practiced with before, and how can you invest in them, and divest for some of the other brands that have been holding this conversation. Because we can change what this industry looks like now; a lot of industries are disrupted right now in particular and it’s a really good time to sit back and consider what would it look like if we all came together to practice for those most marginalized? What would it look like if the people that have been left out of this narrative have the spotlight?
[22:24] Rachel: It would be a totally different, I mean entirely different…
Nicole: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Nicole: And it’s possible. Sometimes people get into this work and they feel really overwhelmed, like there’s nothing that they can do, but you know, capitalism is a major reason why all of this happens, and capitalism decides what is important, what is trending. Capitalism has always centered whiteness, so we, you know, we’re existing in a space of capitalism, we can’t detract that from this narrative. However, a lot of capitalism is also driven by where we spend our money, and where we spend our time. And so we can shift that. And we can shift that more now if you are practicing more online, and you’re investing more in digital platforms; it’s easier to get into new communities virtually than it might be from wherever you live. And so I highly encourage you to leverage the power you have in capitalism to change it, as we dismantle capitalism [laughs] because that’s a whole other conversation.
[23:21] Rachel: [Laughs] And you can do it parallel, yeah, at the same time. What about for any, any teachers in this field who are, who are listening now?
Rachel: I remember, I remember…I mean, I struggled with this for a long time, especially with our retreats and our teacher trainings that we were teaching here, you know, on a Caribbean island, and somewhere really far away, an expensive flight, and we were getting majority White women joining these, these trainings. And for a long time, which I, I can laugh at it now because it’s like, why was I so, why was this so hard for me, but for a long time I was scared to ask the question, you know? Like to literally just ask any of the women of color in my life like, “hey, how can I [laughs] how can I make these trainings, these retreats more inclusive? Why, why are, why aren’t you here, you know? Why aren’t, why isn’t this part of the community present in my own groups? Like what am I doing wrong?”
[24:20] Rachel: That’s such an easy thing to do, is to ask that question, right? But I was scared for a long time that even asking, like that would be something racist, you know? That, or maybe that the answer I would get would be that I was doing something wrong, or that would be shameful, or, you know. There’s a lot of things we can unpack just by starting to have the conversations. But do you have any advice for any teachers, you know, who are listening, because I know a lot of yoga teachers do listen to this show who want to do this work on a deeper level and actually, and actually make an impact in this, in the community…
Rachel: …and in this industry?
[24:50] Nicole: I think…oh, gosh, I mean we could spend forever on this, but you know, if you’re a teacher and you identify as White, you have so much privilege and power to help this conversation happen at the studios you work at, at the brands that you might be an ambassador for, so start asking these questions to the other people in power, and saying “why aren’t you supporting other people of color, why isn’t this place accessible for people with a physical, or a visible or invisible disability?” Start asking those questions to other people who have further responsibility and accountability to take care of them. And then you center your trainings around people who have, who are marginalized, right? Because a lot of — and I think, Rachel, you mentioned this — so much of what we teach is from, is centered in whiteness, and so we can keep perpetuating harm just by continuing to model what has come before through our classes.
[25:47] Nicole: And so diversify your trainings, you know, take trainings that are by marginalized communities that center the needs of marginalized communities, and make sure that you’re advocating for them in your classes. Even if your classes are all able-bodied White folk, it’s still very important to be able to say, “this is how we are doing this work, and this is how we create space for other people.” And, you know, any way that you can, center the voices of other teachers around you that are more marginalized than you. Whether it’s, you know, sharing their classes, or encouraging your community to take a class with them, or letting them take over your marketing channels for, you know, a day or two to show their work. I think genuinely all of these things are a mindset shift, and looking at, you know, how can we go from “I am a teacher, and I am successful as a teacher,” to “we are all teachers and my success and my opportunities can’t come at the expense of yours.” Because if we start thinking about this practice more as a practice of interdependence than independence, we will create models where all of us can thrive. We’re missing that, it’s another part of capitalism: yoga has been taught and modeled here in America as a very individualistic practice, right? Which is very counter [laughs] to what yoga has represented…
Nicole: …but it makes it easy for people to feel that they can grow and be successful and build brands and businesses without knowing or understanding the challenges that other people face.
[27:24 — Commercial Break]
[29:12] Rachel: It’s, it’s funny how a practice that’s built on the concept of, of connection, of, of, of union has become such a, such a separated thing. You can even see it walking into a room, like people don’t want anyone too close. I mean…
Nicole: Right, right.
Rachel: …and this is pre, pre-pandemic, you know? “Don’t step on my mat, don’t come too close, this is my space,” like we’re on this little rectangular mat, and what we do only impacts ourself, right, and nobody else, and it’s, it’s not what the practice is, is…
Rachel: …is really about. I would love to know, what have you seen in terms of, in terms of Yoga Foster, so having these tools for teachers to share in the classrooms, have you been able to see or follow kids — because this was a couple of years ago…
Rachel: …that you started that initiative, right? What, what is it life for a kid to have access to, to yoga and mindfulness tools in the classroom?
Nicole: It’s really…yeah. you know, I’m sitting here smiling because, you know, we’ve been working some schools now for six years, and so we have students that started in the practice who are now grown and leading classes after school, or supporting…yeah, or supporting…
[30:17] Rachel: Really? Leading their own classes?
Nicole: Well not leading their own classes, like as teachers because we don’t provide that kind of training, so I want to make that clear; like we don’t empower students to be teachers to that extent. But leading the after-school programs with teachers, right? Or being the helper, or helping to like in, in bringing in younger kids for example into like recess programs or things like that. So leading from the sense of like, being a leader but not necessarily a teacher.
Nicole: But yeah, it’s, it’s interesting because, you know, when we bring yoga into spaces like schools that are inherently interdependent on one another, you have students that, you know, don’t have as much agency as I think they should in their classroom, you know? It creates a different kind of culture, a culture where everybody is breathing together and practicing with one another, where they are recognizing that, you know, their well-being is, is not individual and it’s certainly intertwined. I really love that this practice can help create more unity and cohesion in schools that one, are experiencing so much trauma and dealing with so much stress and anxiety right now — not just right now right now, but certainly over the past few years. And schools are really where we model this kind of individual, “me over you” perspective, and so I think with practices like this, and having more mindful practices in the classroom, we can shift culture and also shift what the wellness industry looks like.
[31:50] Nicole: Because classes in schools don’t look like classes in studios. And I’m really hoping that, you know, if students carry this practice that they have into the industry, they’ll be rallying for something different. I started this practice when I was 18 and I was so new to the industry and it’s taken me time to learn it. You know, we have kids that in ten years, they’ve been practicing their whole lives [inaudible] has always been theirs. And they’re not going to walk into a studio and take any of this bullshit that [laugh] you know, I, you know, me as a new practitioner, and me new in this space like didn’t know how to respond to initially.
Rachel: Really? Like, like what?
[32:29] Nicole: Like you know, people walk in, when you’re walking into a studio, for example, I still get this a lot, people asking me if I’ve ever done yoga before, which I’ll see them, like somebody will walk in front of me and they won’t get those same questions, or, you know, people will see like me on a mat and like try to like, add more space, or add more distance between me and another, and those kinds of subtle acts of racism are embedded in our industry. And they’re also embedded in our culture and embedded in our lives, and I think that students will have a different perspective when they engage in it in wellness simply through how they were introduced to the practice.
[33:05] Rachel: Yeah, and I mean it’s heartbreaking to, to hear because especially, you know, the, the shala and our mat, it’s supposed to be such a safe space, right? And we talk about it that way also that, you know, coming to the yoga practice, it’s a place to heal, it’s a place where you can, you know, bring your traumas, bring your pain, and you can find that sort of healing in the community, but the reality is it hasn’t been that way, it isn’t that way, for everyone, you know? It’s healing that’s accessible for, for a privileged few, and knowing that there’s actually harm being done in those self-proclaimed safe spaces, you know, it’s truly, truly heart-breaking.
Nicole: Yeah. Yeah.
[33:44] Rachel: So it’s inspiring to, just the thought of, of, of kids being bale to grow up feeling like “this practice is already mine,” right? “This is part of, part of, part of me,” because it is, I mean this body is already yours, it’s already your breath, all of these tools, they don’t belong to anybody, right? No industry can claim them as, as “these are mine and I’m going to capitalize and profit…”
Nicole: Right, although that’s what the industry tries to do, right?
Rachel: Exactly, right.
Rachel: And does. We, I, I used to teach, this is years ago now but I used to teach yoga in the, in a school here in Aruba. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever, ever done. The classrooms are really packed here, but so, so rewarding to just have, you know, watching the kids together closing their eyes and taking a breath, might be the one moment all day they actually get the opportunity to do that.
Nicole: Yeah. Yeah.
Rachel: So such a, such a beautiful initiative. How many schools are you in now? Is it, are you growing, expanding now, or are you comfortable with that, with the amount of schools that you have?
[34:49] Nicole: Yeah, you know, we work with, gosh, we work with about 4,000 schools across the United States right now. We…it’s a big question mark of what expansion looks like during a time of COVID, and, you know, right now, like in American the conversation is very pointed as to what school looks like for this upcoming semester; some school districts are not having kids go back to school at all, some districts are thinking about having kids go back and so, growth isn’t necessarily a business objective of Yoga Foster right now, it’s just “how do we be in relationship with our existing partners, and support them through this transition,” because, you know, like the industry, schools are incredibly disrupted, and I think it can pave the way for a lot more equitable change, but also creates just so much, so much stress already. So we want to be, you know, we want to help our schools where we can, certainly not place our expectations of growth or [laughs] or anything on, on this industry at this time.
[35:55] Rachel: Right, right. I mean 4,000 schools is a lot of school [laughs] a lot of schools, but just a, just the thought of this being accessible to so many kids, it’s so beautiful and I wish, I wish it was available in more places, you know? And if maybe there is a teacher listening who feels really inspired by the work you do with Yoga Foster now to create this in their own countries, or in their own communities right now. I would love to hear more about, because after the, the whole Yoga Journal thing settled a little bit, it inspired you to, to create another venture…
Rachel: …that’s really active right now. Could you share a little bit about that? Because I love how that could have been just a harmful thing that happened, that you spoke about, you know, on social media and then, and then everybody moved on, but that’s not what happened.
[36:38] Nicole: Yeah, I know, I was, and so being a, you know, a, you know, a Black female teacher, and then also being a Black female entrepreneur running Yoga Foster, these kinds of conversations have been like sitting with me for awhile, and there’s so much that we need to do to shift the industry to really center and empower people who are marginalized to hold space. Because I do believe when you have more representation in leadership, you have more brands that represent the practice that we want to see, right? So around the time of Yoga Journal, I was focussing on starting a fund that would invest in other people like me doing things like Yoga Foster, giving people access to the, you know, financial capital and social capital that you need to build businesses in this industry. And hopefully, you know, knowing that so many of, you know, marginalized folk are creating things that are in response to their communities’ needs, we would create a community that’s more inclusive as a result.
[37:41] Nicole: And so I was working on that for awhile and it was one of those things where I was like, “I really want this happen, but I’m focussed on Yoga Foster and I’ve got a lot of personal stuff going on [inaudible], you know, see how it goes. And then when Yoga Journal happened, I was like “this is the problem.” Like, “this is…I don’t know what I am waiting for because there are brands that are creating just such egregious harm, and so many of us, I mean all of us but particularly people who are marginalized, we have to play this game, right? We have to work in this system in order to see our work thrive.” You know, for me personally, I, you know, was very grateful to be on the cover of Yoga Journal, but it wasn’t something I was like, it wasn’t like a dream of mine in the same way that I know so many people have had that; I was really excited about it because of their reach, and knowing that we would get more people engaged with Yoga Foster and, and push that work forward, you know? And so it wouldn’t be something that I would have said no to because I have a responsibility to my board and my team, I have a responsibility to our schools, right? And not being able to have the choice, or the capacity to say no to things in our industry that can be harmful, prevents, I think, us from holding this accountable, you know, from holding this space accountable.
[38:59] Nicole: So all of that is to say that, you know, once Yoga Journal happened, you know, I publicly talked about what’s called Reclamation Ventures; its a fund, we invest capital into entrepreneurs like I said. And I used that to say, “hey,” like, “we need, we need a different model. So, you know, if you are really upset about Yoga Journal and you do want to help move this industry forward, donate to this,” I put up a GoFundMe, “donate to this GoFundMe and help me create micro-grants, you know, of five thousand dollars that we can give to the people doing good work.” And so that was really inspiring to see how many people came and supported.
Rachel: Did Jour…did Yoga Journal donate?
[39:40] Nicole: Yes, so ultimately what happened was I was clearly very upset with Yoga Journal, and once the Instagram post took off they responded to me, but not before, and said, you know, “of course we will put you on the cover,” and I was like, “look, like it’s past the point of you putting me one the cover.” I was like, “the only way I would participate in this is if you give me the, the profits of the magazine, because you don’t deserve to financially profit off of putting me on the cover now.” Because this, this happens a lot in our industry: somebody creates, makes some brand will create harm, then they will compensate for it, right, by doing what they should have done in the first place, but because of how capitalism works, a lot of people that might have been following that story will support that brand and then the brand…
Nicole: …actually financially like profits off of the controversy.
Rachel: So terrible. Yes, so true, because then they gained a lot of attention and it became like…
[40:35] Nicole: Yeah, and with all of the people that were, you know, so many people came and supported me on Instagram, so of course they’d want to buy the cover to support me, but the, the model doesn’t work that way: I wouldn’t be supported, Yoga Journal would be supported, right? And my magazine would probably sell more than it had if I, if they just put me on the cover. So I told them I’m like, “look, the only way I will be on the cover is if you give me all of the profits so I can invest it in the fund. Because that we you are not financially benefitting from this.”
Rachel: You are such a badass [laughs]. This is such a fierce thing to, to, to ask. So amazing. What did they say?
[41:16] Nicole: It took them almost a year to send me those funds, so let’s not like celebrate Yoga Journal for doing the bare minimum. But they did give me the rest of the funds from the magazine — the magazine was, of course, the best selling magazine of the year, right, so that again it says what they could have profited off of, and what many brands do profit off of. But we took the money from that magazine and invested it in the fund, we raised money online from the fund, and now we’re raising a few million dollars to grow and scale the fund so that we can do larger-scale investments. So that’s all to say what came out of that was really just me getting off my butt.
[41:51] Nicole: And I’m glad that I did because, you know, all of this happened about a year ago. And so, for the first few months of 2019, well the last, latter half of 2019, the first few months of the fund, you know, we were just investing in entrepreneurs doing cool work, then when COVID happened this year, we had the capacity, and we had the, we had funds, we had the capacity, we had the staff to be able to say, “let’s create a relief fund for people impacted by COIVD.” And so we’ve raised almost 200 000 dollars since to give to any wellness professional who identifies as being systemically marginalized just to offset some of the revenue that’s been lost. So I’m really glad, again, like all of this happened, because we were ready to respond to COVID I think more quickly than we would have been if I was still sitting on my butt [laughs].
[42:45] Rachel: Yeah, I mean what a beautiful set of events that, that the timing of it is, is, is, is beautiful in a sense. I mean obviously these things shouldn’t…
Rachel: …happen in the first place…
Rachel: …it shouldn’t take racism, and harm, and trauma for brands to do better, or for these conversations to be had, or for funds…
Rachel: …to go to the right place.
[43:08] Rachel: But, but it’s, it’s beautiful to see that you were able to create something so powerful with that harm done. I mean, this, this, of course, you know, then the next questions becomes “imagine what can be created without the harm in the first place?” You know, “how many amazing leaders and teachers that are out there that are, that are sitting with these massive obstacles every single day that, that should be out there creating amazing, fantastic things but have so many, so many hurdles to jump through. And how can we, you know, or any privileged person listening shift some of this privilege to have some of these opportunities actually be for, for everyone…
Rachel: …the way it should be, you know? Especially in this field, this practice, that is about community. I mean that’s, that’s the heart of all of it, you know?
Nicole: Yep. Yep.
Rachel: So thank you so much for sharing this, this, these stories. I mean it’s, it’s, it’s amazing. For anyone listening right now, I mean I like to close the podcast with this, but how can we all be of service…
Nicole: To me.
Rachel: …to you, right now?
[44:06] Nicole: Doing the work, you know, this work is not something that one person can do alone, you know, it takes, it takes all of us to shift a system, the system that we all are part of, right? And we’re actively contributing to regardless if we’re paying attention, right? Like we’re either maintaining the status quo, or we’re dismantling it. So my work can’t happen if all of ya’ll don’t get involved [laughs]. If you’re, you know, if you, if anti-racism conversations are new to you or they’re not and you just want more to do, sign up for Anti-Racism Daily, it’s antiracismdaily.com, and the newsletter is free, you’re welcome to make a contribution, but read that, follow along, do the work with each person. You can follow Reclamation Ventures and our grants at reclamationventures.co. You can follow Yoga Foster at yogafoster.org, and I am on Instagram [laughs] @nicoleacardoza and I talk about all these things, so you can follow me @nicoleacardoza if you want to see it all.
Rachel: Beautiful. Thank you so, so, so much for being here. Thank you for the work you do, for taking the time to talk with me today. I hope you have a, I hope you get a beautiful, sunny day in Alaska today.
Nicole: I do too, thank you so much for having me.
[45:26 — End of Episode]