Holistic Life Foundation: Breathing Love into Communities

What if the traumatic impacts of poverty and violence could be healed, by caring for a child’s body & mind with yoga, mindfulness, and love?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

HLF started in 2001 with three college friends, the desire to reduce needless suffering, and one burning question: “What are WE going to do about it?” Brothers Ali and Atman had seen their West Baltimore neighborhood ravaged by the City’s crack epidemic. After graduation they moved home, with their friend Andy. Looking for a way to help the neighborhood, they started an after-school yoga program at the local elementary school -- and HLF was born!

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)
  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Maryland

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Maryland

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

HLF’s vision includes changing cultures of violence. It's a personal issue, as we've seen the terrible toll that violence takes. Many of the kids we work with are so desensitized to it, they don’t even realize there’s another way. In many urban neighborhoods, there's nowhere to go but up. This is our leverage. Because so many people are looking for solutions, our proven, successful programs are welcomed with open arms.

Many kids who grow up surrounded by violence have never experienced peace, genuine self-confidence, and love. Holistic Life Foundation is not just about teaching yoga and mindfulness, which are incredibly effective tools for reducing stress and cultivating self-regulation. We also model a new way of being: We treat the kids with kindness and respect. They see us keep cool under pressure, and respond to aggression with calmness and focus. As a result, their behavior begins to change as well.

To work effectively with young people from violent backgrounds, HLF has developed a replicable program that blends trauma-informed mindful movement (yoga) with relaxing breathing exercises, and teaches students to defuse negative emotions, maintain calm, and make good decisions. We also train our students to lead mindfulness sessions themselves, so they also can share with their family and friends outside of school. This is a huge confidence builder. (Our philosophy is "reach one, teach one.")

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Our mission is to change not just individual lives, but community culture. Everywhere that we've run programs -- in the US, Canada, and Europe we've seen the same trend: students displaying less aggression and forming healthier personal connections, which leads to stronger communities. We’ve known lots of kids who were already marked for failure when we met them, because of anger issues and bad behavior. But after being in our program, they went on to be very successful. Our first after-school program had 20 students. 19 of them have gone on to college and good jobs, and none is incarcerated. Compared to peers from their impoverished neighborhood, this is statistically amazing.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

HLF improved quality of life for 4000+ children in Baltimore City, through in-school, after-school, and summer camp programs that boosted calm and self regulation (demonstrated by better attendance, higher GPAs and fewer detentions). We consulted with educators across North America and Europe on starting programs, and trained educators to offer HLF-style programs at The Omega Institute, Garrison Institute, Osterloh Retreat Center. In addition to school-based programs, we worked with residents at mental health facilities and drug rehab centers, and convinced State authorities to let us create a tailored program for youth in the Juvenile Justice System who are being charged as adults. Through our Workforce Development program we trained and hired 12 former students to be mindfulness instructors. Going forward, we are on track to keep expanding in all of these areas.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

HLF continues to cultivate new and existing relationships with private and public foundations and individual donors. We contract with professional fundraising consultants to assist us in approaching foundations and wealthy, individual donors all over the country. And HLF’s founders are in great demand for consulting, conferences, and other fee-for-service contracts, which provide an important source of revenue.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

When we began HLF in 2001 there were few, if any, organizations doing what we do. In recent years we’ve worked with numerous school districts nationally and internationally, to help them set up their own programs. What keeps HLF innovative is our vision. We want to improve the lives of people, not just a targeted audience in a particular setting. We adapt our programs to each location. For example, in some schools, guided yoga and meditation happens over the PA system, so that students, teachers, and staff all take part -- permeating the whole school with a culture of mindfulness.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

What we see every day is this: How children feel about themselves has a huge impact on their quality of life and what they are able to accomplish. Shifts away from punitive models of education, towards ones that nourish and nurture the entire child have the greatest potential to advance children’s wellbeing. This includes fostering programs like ours, which model a kinder, saner way to relate to challenging people and situations, and provide tools for real, lasting change in a child's behavior.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email
  • Other

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Stephanie Hanford-Hass -- President, Connectivity Consulting Karen Kreisberg -- The Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund


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Great work! Love that you are no longer unique and that others are joining in this work. Just signed up for your newsletter and look forward to learning more!

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