Michael Stahl, LMT, MS, JD - Founder / Director

About:  Michael Stahl is a licensed massage therapist (LMT), an educator who teaches health practitioners how to work effectively with injury and trauma, and the owner of the Peregrine Center, a holistic bodywork center in Nashville that provides therapeutic, integrative bodywork to clients of all ages and physical abilities. He has trained in multiple soft tissue techniques, including neuromuscular therapy (Trigger Point), acupressure, myofascial work like Active Release Therapy, and Swedish massage.  His current teaching schedule includes professional education classes and client workshops such as: Holistic bodywork for Injury and Trauma and self-care techniques.

He’s also a Stanford educated lawyer, having earned his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University.  Prior to pursuing law, he also earned an Master’s Degree at Vanderbilt University as a Graduate Fellow.

While not the usual career path, the decisions and direction of Michael’s career have been guided by a natural curiosity, passion for learning and growth, and a simple question, “What’s possible?”

When you ask yourself what’s possible, your natural curiosity about yourself and your challenges becomes clear, and that’s when growth, healing, and realization of your full potential can begin.  

That question—asking more of himself while helping his clients see their potential—has shaped Michael Stahl’s career path and the clients he’s helped serve. 

Learn more about Michael’s journey below.

Michael’s Journey:

Although there were many contributing factors, I can point to two occasions in particular that changed the trajectory of my life and inspired me to pursue a career in health and wellness. .

Both times I felt completely broken….and it was through my effort to recover that I understood that I was not broken, but rather I was incredibly resilient and simply reacting to protect myself from further injury.  I just needed to relearn, on every level, that it was safe to heal, move and thrive.  Through that recovery process, I also recognized my passion to pursue therapeutic bodywork, open the Peregrine Center, and support others on their journeys of healing and growth.

The first time I felt broken I was 15 years old. I heard the doctor tell me that, when I was cross-checked from behind during an ice hockey game, I had fractured my spine (L-5) and had suffered serious nerve damage.  The nerve damage caused hot, searing pain to radiate down my legs into my groin; my feet felt like I was walking on needles and I had the urge to pee every 5-10 minutes even though, obviously, I didn’t need to.  The physical therapist told me I had lost 70% of the strength and feeling in my lower body from the nerve damage and the goal was to see if I could get that feeling and strength back.

I was in the prime of my teenage self-confidence and not prepared for this.  My life revolved around sports, and my identity was heavily attached to being an athlete.  I was used to playing at least two competitive sports each season.  I had rarely been injured and always excelled.  Now, rather than outrunning and jumping my peers, I found myself barely able to walk and in so much pain it hurt to sit and lay down.  I slept on the floor each night for over 3 months because only the rock solid ground seemed to provide any support for my back.  I couldn’t find relief from the pain. I went from wondering where I would play college hockey to hoping that I could walk normally and sleep through the night.

I felt broken and scared and lost.  All I wanted was to be able to sit, or stand or walk without pain.  If I could do that…then I wanted to find a way to play sports again.

Part of that fear and that drive to recover sparked a deep interest in learning about the human body: how my body worked and particularly how we heal.  No longer taking simple actions like walking for granted, I began to read about things like rehabilitation techniques, nerve innervations and nutrition…. anything that might help me live without pain and regain that strength and mobility that I lost.

Rather than give in to the pain and the feeling of being broken, I asked myself what was possible and committed myself to healing.  With the help of some good doctors and physical therapists and a ton of work in the gym and rehab center, the pain eventually started to subside.  Then, I started to regain function and mobility…. and although I had some lingering pain, I started to run and train for sports again.  Although I had to give up contact sports for good, I rejoined the varsity soccer team a year and a half after my initial injury.

The experience of feeling broken and losing so much mobility at a young age helped me appreciate what I had taken for granted every day: moving around pain free.  It also helped me find a new hobby that bordered on obsession: understanding the human body.

While I never lost a connection with that passion for health, healing, and being active, my adult life and career took a different journey. My natural curiosity and passion for learning took me to Silicon Valley where, as an intellectual property attorney, I helped individuals found and grow technology companies. But, as many who find themselves in a different career path than the one they started, it’s hard to tune out your calling for the work that you know you’re supposed to do.

The call for me was more resounding that second time I felt broken at 32.  Some of the pain from my back injury resurfaced and I felt that same fear I initially experienced as a 15 year old. I didn’t want to go through that pain again and worse, I wasn’t sure why it had returned. The pain was constant, and I could barely walk, or even stand, but I did not have the same nerve pain as before.  Had I broken my spine again?  I hadn’t had an accident or been hit.  I didn’t know how it could have happened.

Once again, I found myself feeling broken, scared and confused.  While my own health and mobility were important, now I had two young children that I had to help care for. My wife needed my help changing them, bathing them, and caring for them. I couldn’t do any of it—in fact it felt like I could barely care for myself.   It hurt to pick up my 10 lb. infant son, and sitting down to play with or bath my two year-old daughter wasn’t possible.

After visiting several doctors, an orthopedist finally diagnosed that when I had broken my back at 15, I had also severely damaged my hips.  The hip damage had never been diagnosed, but the MRIs and surgical repairs revealed that I had torn the labrum, and partially torn ligaments and cartilage in both hip joints.  It was the damage in the hip joint that was flaring up again.

I asked the doctor “why?”  Why now?  I had continued sports after high school, including rowing briefly in college and competing in CrossFit and had felt great.  I had not fallen or been hit – there was no acute injury or accident that seemed to cause this flare up.  So, why would the injury act up now?

The doctors and physical therapists didn’t have any answers.  Mechanically, the injury was old.  Surgery could help repair the physical damage….but they had no idea about why symptoms resurfaced.  Surgery went well, but rehab was brutal.  It was not linear and for every two steps forward, I seemed to take 1.9 steps back. 

Again, my natural curiosity didn’t accept that this was just the way things were. I wanted to know why. 

Why was this recovery different than before?

But I could not find any answers from my doctors or PTs outside of their assurance that the mechanical repair had gone well. Some offered pills, including off-label use of anti-seizure medication to completely block nerve signals to my lower body.  That approach certainly would have blocked pain but would have done nothing to address the root of the issue.  Other therapists promised that the latest techniques could offer quick fixes. 

None of that felt right for two principal reasons.  First, none of those solutions was aimed at understanding why the injury had resurfaced or what caused the pain.  They only masked the pain rather than asking what the pain was telling me.  Second, I was laying responsibility for my health at the feet others. I didn’t need someone to “fix” me, I needed someone to help me on my journey towards healing, because it could only be mine….I just needed some guidance.

As I began to ask “why”, my mindset also shifted from feeling broken to resilient.  From seeking fixes to looking for facilitation.  From avoiding my pain to engaging with it.  From feeling helpless to empowered.

I worked with chiropractors and yoga instructions, massage therapists and acupuncturists….all who held me accountable for my own health.  This team of people, together with the physicians and their more traditional, western approach, helped me broaden my view of human function and healing, and acknowledge the importance that body, mind, and spirit play in our ability to function, thrive and heal.  They helped me understand and embody the idea that body-mind- spirit are not three separate pieces that make us human, but rather inextricable elements of a single whole—so stress on one element stresses the entire system.

I understood that I was not broken.  Instead, my body was incredibly resilient and reacting to protect myself from further injury.  The pain was simply feedback—an incredibly powerful notification system that something needed to change.  I just needed to listen to what the pain had to say, and find out how to remind my body that it was safe to heal, grow and thrive.

When I began to listen, my awareness grew and I began to understand that this old injury flared when I was under the most stress I had ever been in in my life.  Among other things, I had moved twice in 6 months, including one cross-country move; I had two children under 3 and hit levels of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion that I didn’t know were possible.  My hip injury was connected to past trauma that had not been fully resolved; I was in a job in which I found more stress than joy….and I just kept pushing through all of this with no break and no resolution. I became aware of the physical toll of this stress first—through debilitating pain from an old injury that had, up until that point, been largely asymptomatic.   There was undoubtedly physical damage that needed to be surgically repaired, AND this damage only flared up when I was under serious stress physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Once I learned how to connect the other, non-mechanical elements of my injuries with my physical pain, my recovery progressed more rapidly and I felt new freedom and enjoyment in physical movement and my life in general.

After the second “flare up”, I realized that my healing process has been my own pilgrimage.  This journey helped me acknowledge the importance of integrating the body, mind and spirit into all elements of the healing process, and helped me understand that I am called to do this work.  When I heard people speak of a “calling” before, I didn’t really know what they meant.  I believed they felt strongly about their work, but I couldn’t really relate because I had never felt it.  Now I understood.  For me, my calling to do this work was a deep knowing and intention to share what I have learned and continue to learn every day.

Application to the Peregrine Center:

I call my practice the Peregrine Center because the name “Peregrine” comes from the Latin root for pilgrim. My healing philosophy is centered around the idea of an individual’s personal pilgrimage. Acclaimed author Parker Palmer defines it best, a pilgrimage is “a transformative journey towards a sacred center full of hardships, darkness, and peril […]” Hardships are not accidental, but rather integral to the journey and transformation process. I help clients on their personal journey of health and wellness.  Whether that’s working with performance enhancement or pain—from the chronic challenges to the small discomforts - to you discover what’s possible.

At the Peregrine Center, practitioners won’t claim to “fix” you.  What they offer is this: to facilitate your healing and growth by committing that they will work with you to help you increase your self-awareness around where you are now and where you want to go.  That awareness is critical in understanding how we want to heal and/or grow.Your body already knows what it needs, and practitioners at the Peregrine Center just need to figure out how to help you listen and become attuned to it. 

Practitioners will work with you to create a nonjudgmental space where you can use that increased awareness to help you make intentional, empowered choices about how you want to move forward—with no attachment to what forward looks like.  Understanding that this path to healing and growth is a not linear, practitioners remain committed to work with you through the ups and downs of recovery because, as clichéd as it is, the process itself (not a more mobile shoulder or a faster 5k) is where the healing and growth really happen. Practitioners facilitate this process by applying the years of training in soft tissue and communication techniques as well as sharing their own experience rehabilitating, and living. 

I founded the Peregrine Center with the intention of creating a space where practitioners can share their story and experience in a manner that may help you on your journey.

Manual Therapy Education; Related Certifications and Experience

Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) - trained at Cumberland Institute of Holistic Therapies

Active Release Therapy (ART) - Spine certification

OPEX (Life style consulting)

Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, University School of Cleveland (2004-2006)

Former ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach

Additional Education

Stanford University (J.D., with Distinction)

Vanderbilt University (M.S., Recipient of Graduate Fellowship)

Georgetown University (B.A., summa cum laude)

Athletic and Injury Background

High School

I competed in ice hockey, baseball, soccer and diving and won multiple city and regional championships in all of those sports.

I was also the Head Strength and Conditioning coach for University School of Cleveland 2004-2006 and JV Ice Hockey coach from 2004-2005.

In playing these sports, I've experienced and recovered from injuries including: fractured spine (L5), broken wrist, torn labrum and ligaments in both hips (surgically repaired), bone spurs in elbow (surgically repaired), inguinal hernia (surgically repaired), emergency appendectomy

Post-high school

CrossFit Games Regional Competitor:

-       2009 – 28th NorCal Regional

-       2010 – 7th NorCal Sectional; 36th Southwest Regional