Ariel Kiley lives as a digital nomad running online financial literacy courses and offering career coaching to wellness professionals. She is an IAYT Yoga Therapist, Somatic Experiencing® trauma specialist, lead teacher trainer for Tune Up Fitness®, spokesperson and program designer for Equinox Fitness clubs, creator of the Yoga Fundamentals program for Daily Burn and yoga-based content for 24 Hour Fitness’s 24 Life TV, and a published co-author of the book Smitten: The Way of the Brilliant Flirt.

Ariel’s Life Story

This Ariel character grew up in Northern Vermont in an old farmhouse. My greatest friends were animals until I was about six years old. I was especially obsessed with horses. One of my first words was “uzzie” which was the closest I could get to verbalizing “horsey” at one year old. I had a dog, cat, guinea pig, two hamsters, two parakeets and a pony named Mint Julep. Although the two hamsters turned into 17 hamsters and one day my mom took them with me to the woods and we “freed them” into the wild.

I have since wondered why I loved animals so much – why it was so natural to spend all of my time with them, and why it was confusing to go to school and have to figure out how to make friends with humans.

In retrospect, I see that animals are so honest. They each act according to their nature. It set me at ease. Even though Julep was a grumpy old pony and only had two speeds when I rode him (a dead standstill or running away with me), he was very reliably himself. That brought me great comfort.

Humans seemed more complicated and as I entered the realm of human friendships it all felt rather contrived. There were so many rules and codes that didn’t make sense in the grander scheme. Especially in school. I don’t think school was the best place for this Ariel character. I probably would have done better with a tutor and the animals raising me.

At nine years old my parents split up which was devastating for little Ariel. I recall asking my mother “when will it stop hurting?” She said, “in about two years.” I memorized the date it would be two years form that time and held out for feeling good again. But the two-year point arrived and it still hurt. My parents had two very different households, with different expectations and rules. There was a lot of sadness and anger in the air. Which probably precipitated a strong urge to become independent and move out and create my own reality as soon as possible.

In retrospect, even though that time was sad, I think it gave me the opportunity to see that reality isn’t set in stone. If my parents can split up, and I can shift from one reality to a completely different one… If each parent can tell me different things are true, or important, or punishable, then it must mean that neither is inherently true, right?

The horse obsession continued well into my early teens. I graduated from Julep to a quarter horse I named Oswald (Ozzie for short). He was young and green and we had a lot to learn from each other. Well, mostly I had a lot to learn from him.

After riding with a bridle with a bit for years, one day it struck me that I was using the threat of pain to control him. (A horse’s mouth is tender and a metal bit controlled by reins can make them behave how you want. The “worse” horses often get the sharper bits.) I decided I didn’t want our relationship to be about me controlling him.

So I started riding him with just a loose halter and bailing twine for reins. I thought he would buck and rear and run away with me like he sometimes did when I rode with a regular bridle. But the opposite happened. He became very quiet and attuned. When I dropped my ability to control him, he joined with me instead of bracing against me.

There was also a major dog obsession happening at this time. I had a purebred cocker spaniel named Rosa whom I decided to breed. I did it all officially – hired a stud dog, bred her, and registered all the puppies with the American Kennel Club. Sold them for a good price.

When I went to get their tails cropped at the vet, I told the vet I didn’t want to come in (I was ten years old after all). I heard the squeals from the other room as their tails were snipped off. When the vet had me come back in all the little tails were lined up on the examination table. (Worms and snails and puppy dog’s tails always come into my head when I recall this.) With a bit of drama, he swept the tiny tails into the garbage. Point received.

Again, I was struck with how we supposedly love these animals, our pets, yet we do the most terrible things to them. Why the fuck do we chop the tails off of dogs? Why do we need to circumcise everything? What are we thinking?

Rosa got hit by a car on Valentine’s day and the next year I got another cocker spaniel named Cora. I showed her in dog shows and we got pretty good together. It was a very awkward phase for Ariel. I had a bowl cut hairstyle and a mouth full of braces. But I loved my dog Cora and had a couple good friends.

Teenage Years

At 11 years old Ariel became very intrigued by cigarettes. At that time cigarettes were sold on displays in front of cash registers which weren’t too difficult to steal off of.

I played soccer all through my youth, but was not very good. I recall clearly being out on the field dribbling the soccer ball forward. A girl from the other team was coming at me and I could see that she really wanted the ball. It was obvious that one of us would have to lose. And it seemed a lot more important to her to have the ball. So I let her take it.

Then I shifted my attention to selling single cigarettes to the bad boys out of my soccer bag from the bench. The coach rarely put me in the game and selling Virginia Slims to cute boys seemed like a better use of my energy. My entrepreneurial spirit grew…

By the time high school rolled around, I had not only figured out how to make friends. I had also figured out how to be popular. Really popular. Like prom queen popular. It wasn’t an accident. I studied what made people “cool.”

I clearly remember making a list of what “cool” people (famous or ones I knew) did that made others admire and want to be close to them. The most prevalent thing I could pin down was that they did whatever they wanted – there was a certain spontaneity to their behavior – and they never apologized for it or seemed to care what others thought. So even though I was scared, I started behaving more boldly and impulsively – and letting the chips fall where they may.

It worked. I started becoming friends with all the people I thought were cool. And there was something exciting about it. I was experimenting with freedom without knowing it. Ironically, acting like I didn’t care what others thought, to get them to like me, helped set me free from needing approval so much. Because it was fun to do what I wanted without apology.

The Get-Me-Out-of-Here Years

From the age of 13 I wanted to move out. I had been to NYC on a field trip when I was 12 and fantasized about living there. I wanted glamour. I wanted a heightened life. I got into Barbizon School of Modeling and washed dishes at an Italian restaurant for a year to pay for it.

I started doing silly little modeling gigs while continuing to work at the restaurant – eventually promoted to prep cook, then cooking on the pizza and appetizer bar. Also I worked at a donut shop and shared a pickup truck named “Ed” with my sister. I liked writing and would write poems at home late at night on a typewriter. I listened to Tori Amos and Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana and Janis Joplin and Grateful Dead. Got to see two dead shows, when I was 12 and 13, before Jerry died.

At that time I had no idea that 10 years later I would be dating a musician who was friends with Phil Lesh and I’d spend late nights in the Village in NYC listening to them play in the living room while remembering my teens. I never had the nerve to request my favorite Dead song though, called Loser.

My best friend Christyn and I learned to snowboard together and went up to Bolton or Stowe Mountain whenever we could. We smoked cigarettes on the chairlift and zig-zagged through the woods. We fell and got bruised and got up and tried again. We dated bad boys and snuck out at night. We drank too much and would wind up in the middle of winter, wandering through some neighborhood cold and a little scared and we would sing “Stand by Me” out loud to feel better.

We decided to graduate high school early and move to California.

To be continued…