Nikki Arel came to teaching yoga to the military through a round-about path. Her maternal grandfather was Navy in WWII and her dad was Submariner during the Vietnam era, but she did not follow into military service. She has friends who have served in every branch and has visited a number of Academies and bases/posts. Since she was 12 and had her first POW/MOA bracelet from Vietnam, Nikki has held a very special place for the Vets who served during Vietnam and for military in general. To this day, her best friend is still serving in the Army Reserves after his career as Active Duty.
Nikki is a Licensed Massage Therapist in CT whose backgrounds in gymnastics and rock climbing landed her in yoga classes. She was challenged to use her muscles and recruit her strength in a different way than merely sinking into her flexibility and allowing her joints to do the work of holding postures (asana). While studying Thai Massage, and heading to Thailand for a month of deeper practice and study, Nikki decided to enroll in a YTT program through Samadhi Yoga Studio in Manchester, CT which is rooted in Kripalu training but draws influences from a variety of other traditions and instructors. Her goal was not to teach, but rather to come to a deeper personal practice and to be able to offer more stretching and home-work for her Thai and Massage clients.
While taking YTT, Nikki discovered she had a knack for teaching and began teaching an early morning all-levels/moderate class that is strongly influenced by the needs and goals of her students. During this time, Nikki had been working on her best friend between deployments and was finding significant results with Thai Massage in increasing his restful sleep, decreasing aches and pains and finding a better connection to breath. She started to look for a way to offer FREE massage to Vets and active duty as her friend was once again heading overseas and would not be benefitting from the bodywork.
After almost 2 years of diligent work, networking and cold-calling, Nikki connected with an organization that helps homeless Vets and many of the guys fell in love with the Thai Massage and are now enjoying the meditations she is offering. Nikki eventually located Warriors At Ease and knew that their training would enhance her ability to offer trauma-sensitive and adaptive classes for military populations. She was excited to find a program that understood yoga as so much more than asana and chanting and conturing the body, but rather asked the participants to look inside for guidance and understanding of how to move and breathe. This is very in-line with Nikki’s personal practice and style.
Nikki was able to connect with the Director of Behavioural Health for the Army National Guard in CT. Working with this end of the National Guard has brought Nikki into contact with military from all over CT and she now attends a variety of training days, drill weekends and other trainings, where sh offers Thai Massage, yoga and meditations. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and the soldiers are very receptive to the work and opportunity to simply receive and connect.
She is looking to continue this work and to expand her networking. She has already helped two other LMT’s connect and come in to offer chair massage at different venues, touching even more soldiers than she alone can manage. This is more than a mission for her; working with military is a heart’s calling that lets her offer gratitude and appreciation to those who sacrifice so much in order to secure her freedoms to pursue her passions.