Book Review: The Vital Psoas Muscle by Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones

The Vital Psoas Muscle: Connecting Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Well-Being promises to help readers see the link between the anatomy of the psoas and its influence on some of the esoteric aspects of the human-movement experience. Tall order for such a small book, only 128 pages. Ms. Staugaard-Jones deserves applause for bringing readers reference material about a largely unmarked territory. Well, it’s territory that many have explored and continue to attempt make more clear: the melding of the physical and emotional body. This work is useful for healing (as reported by many seeking help from pain or difficulties of many kinds), but can seem vague and difficult to put into a concrete framework of guaranteed protocols.

Isn’t that what all of us movement professionals are really looking for?! The manuals that help you treat weird and out-of-this-world (seemingly so) shit by saying, “Work on this muscle here, release this emotion, follow-up with said movement. Breathe. All better!

The author has already won my admiration for attempting to illuminate us on such a complex subject, the psoas as influencer on emotional state, digestion, gait, posture and everything else. But I was disappointed with the delivery. Psoas function is still a hotly-debated topic in the movement community. Is it primarily a hip flexor? Does it mostly stabilize the lumbar spine? Does it matter? Should we stretch it?! The author posits that the psoas is the most important muscle in the body, because it is the only one that connects the upper and lower body. This vexes me greatly! Hello?! What about the Latissimus Dorsi???

What I did truly appreciate is the information about the nerve plexus that runs behind the psoas, which is intimately connected with its function and manipulation. At SMARTer Bodies we do believe movement of the muscular system will always affect nerve pathways in such a manner as to influence the emotional/cognitive experience. This book does present 3 case studies that exemplify the importance of incorporating a client’s emotional state while trying to address physical pain or dysfunction. These human elements inextricably and dynamically constantly relate to one another.

The last section of the book describes the Chakra system and its connection to the psoas. Love that concept. But it is overly simplistic by suggesting yoga poses as a way to affect that system and the muscle. In my opinion, this is the kind of overly prescriptive habit that movement teachers employ when discussing yoga, the human body and the complex energy system that drives it. This way of describing the effects of yogasana is a slippery slope to overgeneralizing such a sophisticated organism and trying to prescribe asana is a guaranteed way to set up failure. Doing so without knowing the idiosyncrasies of one’s client is anathema to the standard the book sets up in the beginning: one’s relationship to the psoas (as with all parts of ourselves) is sensitive and unique.

Read it if you’re unfamiliar with the ideas presented here. Otherwise, tell me what book about the psoas you prefer.

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