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Cape Veteran of Iraq Teaches Trauma-Focused Yoga Recovery

Josh Maloney is to the left of this image from the Veterans Yoga Project.
Keith A. Jackson
Veterans Yoga Project
Josh Maloney is to the left of this image from the Veterans Yoga Project.

Thousands of soldiers are heading back home following the end of the war in Afghanistan.

Many war veterans have experienced combat-related trauma, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. And that trauma can often lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Josh Maloney is a Cape Cod veteran of Iraq and former Barnstable police officer whose own trauma recovery inspired him to teach yoga to other affected veterans.

On Sunday afternoons, at Evoke yoga studio in Hyannis, Maloney leads fellow veterans through an hour of breathing and meditation.

“You enter what I like to call a bliss state,” Maloney tells CAI. “It’s not something that I ever got when I was living in trauma. Ever.”

In 2008, Maloney was deployed to Iraq, where he drove a tank on combat missions for the Army. He served a year in Mosul. On the day Maloney returned to Hyannis, at age 19, he says he felt fine.

“Looking back on it, it’s very peculiar that I felt absolutely nothing,” Maloney says. “I was just totally disconnected. And it’s tough to come back when that’s what we’re feeling.”

Now 31, Maloney is one of the 20 percent of Iraq veterans who, according to the VA, experienced trauma and developed PTSD. He struggled to cope, and turned to alcohol.

“The whole time I was drinking way, way, way, way too much,” he says. “So I ended up getting some help with the VA. And I went to a rehab, there was a gym that offered free yoga to anybody who had been sober from anything for 24 hours. And that’s when I had my moment of, ‘OK, there’s really something to this.’”

“I feel like I remember him saying he wanted to try to do everything,” says Deanna Jones, Maloney’s first yoga instructor after his rehab. They knew each other from high school. She said he did great. The hardest part of that first class, after all, is staying in the room.

From there, Maloney’s discipline grew. A few years ago he discovered something called the Veterans Yoga Project. It trains veterans like him to teach other veterans the practice of trauma-focused yoga, by easing them into recovery.

“Pushing people is not the way to do it,” says Daniel Libby, a clinical psychologist who founded the Veterans Yoga Project 10 years ago to empower veterans and their families as they recover.

Dr. Daniel Libby
Keith A. Jackson
Veterans Yoga Project
Dr. Daniel Libby

“It’s an injury to the soul, and it needs the space to heal,” Libby says. “Holding the space for them and giving them the tools where their mind becomes more predictable and more controllable — now you’ve created the space for that person to recover."

This year Maloney became one of the Veterans Yoga Project’s first veterans to complete a 200-hour teacher training, focused on teaching treatment skills. The VA finds that trauma-focused yoga helps soldiers with PTSD manage their sleep, stress, and anxiety.

“I know he’s the perfect person to go and help so many other people one day, because he’s been there,” says Jones, who owns Evoke, the studio where Maloney now teaches. In June, they got engaged.

“I tell him all the time, you’re not just fighting for yourself,” she says. “You’re doing OK right now, but there’s going to be people who are going to need this. And hopefully you can kind of pave the way for them.”

Dr. Libby says Maloney embodies the resilience the organization teaches around the country.

“He is Veterans Yoga Project,” Libby says. “He is a veteran who used yoga, who was introduced to these practices as part of his recovery, and has now come full-circle.”

“The military certainly made me who I am,” Maloney says. “I have a knack for ruminating on the past. And yoga helps me in the moment, in the room, to cultivate moments where that’s not happening.”

Maloney’s decade-long journey, from trauma and addiction to sobriety and recovery, is now a mission to help his fellow veterans follow their breath.

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.