The Psoas - Does It Really Connect Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-Being?
Categorized as Health & Fitness / Anatomy, the appealing cover of the book certainly entices one to pick it up for further perusal. The subtitle Connecting Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-Being is also intriguing in light of its category of anatomy books.
The book, whose size and format are a mixture of textbook and literature, is divided into three main parts which discuss the anatomy of the psoas, the emotions connected with it, and the importance of the muscle in regard to spirituality. These chapters are clearly marked by different colored edges for easy referencing by a devoted reader. They are further subdivided and some include a summary or a review in quiz format at their ends.
According to the author, Staugaard-Jones wrote the book to expand people's awareness of the importance of the only muscle that connects the upper and the lower (human) body. In her extensive experience as a professor of kinesiology and certified Pilates and yoga instructor, Staugaard-Jones has come to realize that the psoas is so much more than just a muscle group of three muscles that is fairly inaccessible in the human body.
In part one, the "Anatomical Prelude," Staugaard-Jones explains the psoas' function in the body in regard to other muscles and organs, the lumbar nerve complex, the aorta, and the diaphragm, delineating its anatomical significance. The following part details various exercises to help maintain a healthy psoas, which are supplemented by drawings to make it easy for readers to copy them correctly. In the third part of this chapter, Staugaard-Jones provides various scenarios of lower back pain interspersed with real case scenarios that make the material interesting and accessible. Mentioning the weekend athlete, children, and the overachiever as typical examples prone to lower back pain, the final part then connects the psoas with different exercises from Pilates, not only because Pilates has become very popular, but mainly because its poses often overexert the psoas; her goal, here, is to make practitioners aware of the importance of careful instruction and practice. Again, the exercises are well described and illustrated.
Part two, "The Psoas and Emotions," discusses somatic memory (body memory), which the author inexplicably equates with the so-called "sixth sense" (74). Staugaard-Jones claims that the psoas, due to its "deep location and connection" to so many other body parts, is capable of holding the memory of traumatic events, but defers to experts whom she does not name. She further ascribes it a "fundamental role in behavioral patterns," listing possible emotional disorders from PTSD to sleep disorders. According to her, feelings generated by the central nervous system may create muscle tension and may resurface once that tension is being released. Different body positions may relieve the psoas of its tension and thereby positively affect our emotions. This part concludes with stories from people whose psoas was apparently responsible for their various ailments.
The spiritual connection to the psoas, as discussed in part three, "The Psoas and Spirituality – 'Energetic' Anatomy," remains unclear, however. Staugaard-Jones introduces the reader to the chakra system, wheels of energy within the body, based on ancient Indian beliefs. Although her premise that the psoas, as argued in the two preceding parts, connects the physical and the emotional may be correct, it makes for a weak argument for its involvement in spiritual matters. Other than the psoas' location within the solar plexus, Staugaard-Jones provides no further evidence or plausible reasoning to have readers agree with the premise of her posed question: "how can this muscle not also be related to the spiritual chakras and their effect on the well-being and intent of the person?" (90). It later becomes clear, when providing a variety of yoga poses that involve the psoas, that she connects the ancient wisdom of the poses and their respective purpose to the various chakras and their purported meaning for a person's life. Accordingly, the poses involving the psoas all relate to the first three chakras of the human body, located at the base of the spine, behind the navel, and in the solar plexus, respectively.
Overall, although the argumentation of Staugaard-Jones often remains unclear and therefore unconvincing, this book is an excellent stepping stone for readers interested in the anatomy and the multifaceted aspects and roles the psoas muscle plays in our bodies and minds. The muscle's link to our emotions is an important discovery and crucial to anybody involved in body work or any (mental) health profession. The body's somatic memory is finally being researched (along with energy fields that defy the Newtonian concept of body and matter), and Staugaard-Jones' book is an indispensable piece of knowledge for anybody open enough and interested in practical application.
Staugaard-Jones, Jo Ann. The Vital Psoas Muscle. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2012.