Mover Spotlight: Donna Hughes

If you’re part of the MoveWith community, chances are that you’ve been inspired by someone. Maybe it’s the colleague that invites you along for a run at lunch, or the friend who encourages you to get out of your comfort zone and give that dance class a try. Maybe it’s the teacher who, by teaching you how to move, teaches you something about yourself.

We’re here to celebrate those stories, and we’re here to create more of them. This week we’re thrilled to spotlight Boston Mover and MoveWith Ambassador Donna Hughes.

How long have you lived in Boston?

For three years. Before that I was in Western New York.

What do you do for work?

I work at a healthcare IT company called athenahealth, which is based in Watertown, MA. I work in the legal department as an executive assistant.

Donna at Fenway Park

How do you like to stay active?

My favorite movement in the whole world is yoga. I practice between three and four times a week. It’s the first kind of movement I really fell in love with. I love that I can just get on my mat and get out of my head and be very, very present in a room of people who I don’t even know. For that hour or hour and a half, I don’t have to worry about anything else that’s going on.

When I moved to Boston, I found yoga an incredibly helpful way to connect to people. Boston is very different than where I’m from. There’s so much energy and so many people, and if you don’t take time to slow down, you end up feeling drained. Yoga has helped me feel energized.

How did you discover yoga?

I didn’t have a fitness community when I first moved to Boston. I would go to the gym but it wasn’t doing anything for me. I went with my roommate at the time to the Lululemon store in Chestnut Hill, and I saw on the community board that a teacher named Cara Gilman was teaching a hip hop yoga class to Michael Jackson, who is one of my all-time favorite artists. I really wanted to go, so I tried to round up some friends to join, but no one could make it. I went anyway, by myself, and that was it for me. It was a new and brave and scary thing. I had never taken a yoga class before, and I remember it being so difficult but also the greatest workout I’d ever had in my life.

The yoga room at YogaWorks Comm Ave, where Donna frequently practices. She calls it “the happiest room on the planet.”

Why did you stick with it?

After I went to that first class, I remember thinking that Cara was this little ball of happy, wonderful energy. At that time in my life I was working through grieving the loss of my sister, who passed away from Cystic Fibrosis. When I walked into Cara’s class, I felt instantly welcome, and that I could use the time and space during her class to move or just to work through my own stuff physically. Cara and I got to know each other because she likes to know everyone who shows up for her classes, and eventually I had the guts to tell her what I was working through.

We had a really deep conversation about how important yoga had been for her when she was dealing with tough stuff in her own life, and she was happy that I had decided to make yoga, and her classes in particular, part of my grieving process. It meant so much to me that someone I admire could relate to me on that level. She’s the first person I took a yoga class with and I’ve stuck with her ever since.

I’ve taken classes with other teachers but there’s a significant difference to me, physically and emotionally, when I’m moving with her. It feels like I’m coming home.

Cara and Donna at Cara’s Retreat to the Berkshires, a MoveWith Original

What has Cara showed you about yourself that you didn’t know before?

That it’s completely okay to be vulnerable. We spend so much time trying to puff ourselves up and be big and bad, and the most incredible thing you can give to someone is the ability to say “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong,” or “I’m going to be honest with you.” I think being brave enough to say those things is when the best kinds of connections are made. For me in particular, when I walked into her classes and I was grieving, I was trying to avoid my feelings rather than process them in a healthy way. Cara helped me realize that the best way to work through it was to feel all of my feelings and to know that whatever I showed up with was totally okay. If it hadn’t been for her affirming that, I don’t know how long the process would have taken.

If you could thank Cara for something, what would it be?

Her infinite amounts of patience and for always smiling whenever I see her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in a bad mood, not even when she’s hungry or tired or when the Patriots lose. She is always excited to be teaching and to be surrounded by her community. She gets so much joy out of her interactions with everyone.

You’re also a runner. What was your path into running?

Cara teaches a yoga class for runners at a studio in Jamaica Plain, and she had gotten asked by a woman who frequented her class, Mary Kennedy, to do a yoga for runners crosstraining video for a nonprofit called Dreamfar that Mary co-founded. Dreamfar is a program where high school students are paired with a mentor who helps them train for a marathon. I got involved and it’s the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my entire life. Last year I fundraised for Dreamfar and ran the Boston Marathon on their behalf. During training, I developed a close relationship with a student with a mental disability. We ended up being the same pace on the road and kept running together every week, so we developed this incredible connection. He’s a great running partner, and I ended up running a half marathon in Providence, Rhode Island with him after I ran Boston. This year we’re definitely going for the full marathon.

When I don’t feel like running very early on Saturday mornings, I think about that student, who shows up and just wants to run with me, and that’s what gets me out of bed. I can’t hit the snooze button on Saturdays because I know he’s waiting for me. I think all the time about how great it’s going to be to see him cross the marathon finish line. Helping these students realize that they can do anything they put their minds to is so rewarding. It’s my favorite thing every week.

Donna and her fellow Dreamfar mentors at a 5k earlier this winter

What are you most passionate about?

I think for me it’s community. I came to Boston and I didn’t know anyone. I came to completely start over. It was empowering and terrifying at the same time. I think the only way that Boston started to feel like home for me is because I have found my way into all of these little communities that welcomed me with open arms. And now, I try to do that for others every day in my own life. At work I reach out to new people to let them know I’m available if they have questions. I try to introduce myself to new people at the yoga studio regularly and crack silly jokes to break the ice because I know how important it was for me to feel comfortable. I feel like if there’s one thing I can do, it’s give that to others.

What is your MoveWith word and why?

Empowerment. I’ve started taking on new challenges for myself. I recently took up boxing, which has been fun – yoga and running are great, but sometimes you just need to punch something. Recognizing that feeling and accepting it for what it is, and finding a way to challenge yourself in working out that feeling in a healthy way and going for it – that’s me empowering myself. 2016, for me, is all about empowering myself by doing things I never thought I would do.

If you had to summarize what movement brings to your life in just a few words, what would you say?

Pure joy and contentment.

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