Elisabeth Röhm is a modern-day Jane of all trades. The established actress played Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn on the acclaimed series Law & Order, and has featured on such TV shows as The Client List, Heroes, and Angel. Her burgeoning film career includes co-starring alongside Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, and Robert DeNiro in director David O. Russell’s anticipated feature American Hustle (coming out this Fall), as well as starring as the lead in the docudrama Finding Happiness, in which she plays a skeptic who travels to Ananda’s Northern California-based residential spiritual community. Away from the big screen, Röhm is an avid blogger — she writes regularly on fertility and motherhood for People.com — and is the owner of ReJuice, an organic juicery and eatery with locations on Pico in Santa Monica, and Hot 8 Yoga in Beverly Hills. Added to that, she is a passionate activist, an involved mother of a five-year-old daughter, and a devoted Yogini.
Witnessing Röhm’s ready smile and easy demeanor, it isn’t immediately obvious that she is a woman who has experienced the extreme highs and lows of the human condition. As an actress, she delves into a wide range of human emotions but nothing could prepare her for the real life experience of losing her beloved mother to cancer or her struggles with infertility. In the midst of the turmoil that comes with motherhood and working in Hollywood, Rohm finds her center by tuning into yoga — the practice of stilling the mind. She cites the importance of the breath in helping her tackle personal and artistic challenges. It is an embrace of the teachings of yoga that have allowed her find peace in the frenzy of modern-day LA.
LA YOGA: You began dabbling with Eastern thought and philosophy from an early age, and your mother was a dharmic person. Can you talk a little bit about the beginnings of your own path?
Elisabeth Rohm: My mother was a devotee of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and began teaching meditation when she was only 18. My father was also spiritual; in fact, they met through Maharishi. Despite having been baptized Christian and growing up in New York, our environment at home was very Buddhist. I was given my first mantra when I was only five years old. Chanting in our home became normal, and meditation felt natural to me. Around my sixteenth birthday, I became interested in Yoga; I wore saris that summer and began to immerse myself in my studies on my own account. That was a pivotal moment in my life.
LA YOGA: The stereotype is that the entertainment business is cutthroat, and as an actor, one must hustle to succeed. How has Yoga helped you tackle the challenges of this profession?
ER: My observation of anyone who is in this business and also spiritual is that they treasure stillness. They deliberately detach in order to have a sense of peace. For some people, it’s prayer or breathing, others meditate through knitting, needlepoint, or running a marathon.
My ritual is similar, in that I take a deep breath before I approach anything. Returning to my breath to achieve stillness has helped me tremendously in the past. As actors, we tend to get very hot tempered, yet we need quiet cool bodies. It’s not healthy to react “hot”. We need perspective and need to steady ourselves and yoga helps with that.
LA YOGA: Do you see any other parallels between acting and yoga?
ER: Acting itself can be very spiritual. My mother used to say, “Don’t lie to yourself. Just be honest with yourself.” Yoga allows you to do exactly that: To be with myself and to detach, which is what also needs to happen in acting.
It’s not good to enter the profession just to become famous. You have to want to understand human behavior. The beauty of acting is that every character you play will reveal something about yourself. Each part you play helps you deal with demons or loss or insecurities. You work up until a certain point, and then you just have to let go. It’s like yoga: you practice a certain pose, but at some point, you have to let go and not push yourself or you’re going to fall out of the pose. The famous Italian director and writer Federico Fellini once said that he would step back and offer up his craft to a higher purpose; sometimes he wouldn’t remember what he did all day, because he would just let go. I find that powerful.
LA YOGA: In the new film, Finding Happiness, you play Juliet, a journalist who is assigned to a piece on Swami Kriyananda. This fictional narrative has a documentary quality since Swami Kriyananda is a real teacher and you visited the real location of the community depicted in the film. What was this experience like?
ER: I had been familiar with Kriyananda’s writing from my childhood and had wanted to meet him in person. I didn’t expect anything, but my intuition told me that it was going to be a wonderful experience. My perspective is a little different from Juliet’s because she is a cynic; she comes to Ananda thinking it’s all hocus pocus. Through the course of the film, as she spends time with the community, she sees the value of togetherness. Those concepts — togetherness and community — touched me at my core. Whether people suffer or not, people who live in communities are onto something. I probably didn’t feel it necessary before, but after having worked on the film, I can see the benefits it has for the soul. Being there touched my heart.
The experience on set was very dharmic. With the exception of a project I did in Cambodia, I had never been in an environment where everyone was this nice and genuine. I knew it wasn’t just because they were putting their best foot forward; it came from the heart. Caring for one another in a group made me very reflective of my own life. I was especially touched by a young family whose father had died. The community came together to help keep the mourning family fed. My own mother passed away a few years ago, but I can’t say that I had the same experience. We had maybe three or four good friends, but there in Ananda, the community became pearls that helped them deal with the loss. Communal living isn’t for everyone, and I’m not sure it’s the right thing for me and my family. However, I am able to learn and take these blueprints with me into my daily life and apply them as I see fit.
LA YOGA: How have you incorporated aspects of the yogic lifestyle into your home/family?
ER: My daughter Easton is growing up here in Venice, California, where life is very bohemian. She is enrolled at the Claire Fontaine school on Abbot Kinney, which is a very loving environment. They also teach yoga at her summer camp.
In a way, Easton is being exposed to the healthy lifestyle in the same way I was exposed to spirituality through my own parents. Easton’s dad, Ron Anthony, and I are big juicers. He’s a vegan and I’m a vegetarian, so our kitchen is a sort of garden that we can make into juices and use to feed our entire family. Juicing has been a big part of our family diet. We love it so much that last July we opened ReJuice, a juicery spot with a small and simple vegan menu. It’s at the corner of 33rd and Pico (in Santa Monica); we are also available at select local hotels and Hot 8 Yoga in Beverly Hills. My personal favorite juice that I drink every day contains apple, ginger, celery, cucumber, and kale.
LA YOGA: How does your volunteer work connect to your practice of yoga?
ER: My mom had a strong sense of giving and tried to pass that on to me. She would educate me on what issues were worth fighting for: trees, the ocean, Syria… She’d email me to point me in
the direction of where justice might need to be served. Over the years, I just assumed that it’s something everyone should do. And it’s not just a yogi mentality; it’s also a church mentality.
I was exposed to many different causes, and when I grew older, I began to care most about disaster relief. When I was in college, my mother’s house burned down. The Red Cross came and replaced her roof, which left a lasting impression on me. The Red Cross is always there – hurricanes, earthquakes, you name it. You can count on their support and on them educating and properly preparing you for possible disasters. I recently filmed a “Shake Out” PSA video sponsored by the Red Cross since a big earthquake is imminent and the Red Cross is raising money for more shelters.
LA YOGA: You’re also an active blogger and author. What other projects can we expect from you in the future?
ER: I’ve been blogging for People Magazine for two years now; what started as a single column turned into a long-term commitment. I wanted to share more about my experience with in vitro fertilization. When you’re not able to conceive, you feel a little bit broken. I wasn’t being gentle with myself, and kept it a secret for a long time. At some point, I just had to be honest and be okay with the fact that I’m not invincible and needed medical help. It’s like in yoga class – you can be disappointed with yourself; you just have to accept and forgive. So writing has been very therapeutic. Above all, I’m glad to help remove some of the stigma attached to IVF, especially because my daughter Easton will be reading all of this some day. There was such a wonderful outpouring in response to the blog. I realized there are many people with fertility issues. We live in a much more toxic world, and women today also start families later in life. Eventually, I also released a book, Baby Steps: Having the Child I Always Wanted (Just Not as I Expected), with the purpose to create a higher consciousness and to allow women to talk about infertility and let them know they’re not alone.
Elisabeth’s forays into the practice of yoga and the commitment to community in all forms — through food, writing, on the mat, and on screen — are both an inspiration and a demonstration of the power of persistence.
Elisabeth is the author with Eve Adamson of Baby Steps: Having the Child I Always Wanted (Just Not as I Expected). Read more about Elisabeth on her site: elisabeth-rohm.com and follow her updates on Twitter account @ElisabethRohm
The Expanding Light, Ananda’s Spiritual Retreat for Meditation, Yoga, and Health: expandinglight.org
Nadine Truong is a writer, photographer, and accomplished filmmaker. Her directional credits include Chopsticks, Eggbaby, and Shadow Man, among others. She recently directed her first feature film, Someone I Used to Know. An avid Yogini and recent RYT-200 graduate from Yoga Vida in New York, she teaches Yoga to inner city high school students in Los Angeles.