Some people refer to their career as a “calling” because they feel a strong desire to do a certain kind of work.
Such is the case with Caleb Ebanks, a certified massage therapist at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.
“I received a massage and felt drawn to it,” he says of his impetus to join the profession. “There was something ancient about it, healing through your hands.”
Caleb says he had always been fond of working with his hands, enjoying the process of analytically and practically learning how things work. So, in 2002 at the age of 21, he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Institute of Massage Therapy, became a certified practitioner and began freelancing at wellness centres and chiropractic offices in Philadelphia.
When he decided to return to Grand Cayman, he was one of two male massage therapists in a limited industry. Asked about his choice to pursue an alternative career rather than to follow the more common paths of banking, law or accountancy in the Cayman Islands, he remarked that while he didn’t perceive any explicit stigmas, many of his peers had initially misunderstood massage therapy as more of an indulgence than a valid health practice.
“I take a medical therapy approach,” he says, adding that he’s gathered a range of techniques from both Western and Eastern practice and developed them over his 16 years in the profession. “It’s important to learn different techniques because everybody is different and requires a different approach.”
Caleb says he delights in the fulfilment of fixing something with his hands, combined with the ability to explore both the minutia that makes an individual and the shared characteristics that define all humans.
“People are fascinating,” he says. “We’re all so different, and yet we’re all so much the same. People ask me why I don’t work in a clinic, but there’s just something about hospitality. As someone who lives here, it’s interesting to find out about the people who visit. I get to meet people from all different walks of life and have very intimate conversations with them. You get to hear and feel what people really think. You become vulnerable to someone when you’re getting a massage, so people’s guards go down and they speak very freely. There’s comfort in a stranger, and there’s no judgment. You get clients from different rungs on the ladder, but at the end of the day they’re going through the same things.”
This level of emotional and physical intimacy can have an impact on therapists through the transference of a client’s feelings, thoughts or physical ailments to the therapist, Caleb says.
“Energy can be passed,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily affect me; I notice it, but I just let it go. It’s important to know how to not let it get to you. Breathing helps; it helps with many things.”
DEMANDS OF THE JOB
It’s not something many of us consider when we’re lying on a massage table having our own bodies and souls rejuvenated by a treatment, but massage is an intensely physical job. In addition to this synergistic movement of energy, it requires therapists to be on their feet for several hours a day, working on someone else’s body for an hour or more at a time.
Caleb says it’s essential that therapists take care of their bodies. “It’s like any craft or trade — your muscles develop,” he says. “The key thing is to keep proper body mechanics; that’s the most important thing you can do in our profession. It’s important to exercise, too, even though our job seems like exercise itself. For example, I’ll take a swim, which is easy on the joints.”
The physical demands are not, however, what Caleb identifies as the most challenging part of his job. To maintain a health practitioner’s license, massage therapists are required to undertake continuing education studies every year.
Caleb expresses that it can be a challenge to do so, without access to hands-on courses in the Cayman Islands. Despite the growing number of holistic practices on island, massage therapy is still a small industry here.
It’s natural that he would pinpoint barriers to learning as his biggest frustration. He describes himself as someone whose “brain doesn’t sit still” and says he has a need to “feed his mind, examine, explore and experience.”
While massage has been, and continues to be, his nucleus, he’s taken on a series of odd jobs in the past, including a four-year stint as a DJ. “I’ve had some ideas before and they didn’t work out, but that’s life right? By the process of doing this stuff, you learn about yourself, and to me that’s even better than being ‘successful.’”