Type the words “stressed,” “anxious” or “depressed” into a social media post — and who hasn’t in the last year? — and within seconds, ads for meditation apps will fill your feed with the soothing soundtrack of a gurgling mountain brook. Among names like Headspace, Reflectly and Meditopia, the Calm app currently reigns supreme, with more than 100 million downloads and the No. 1 position in the Apple App Store’s Health and Fitness category. 

Meditation is hot, and the connection among the mental, emotional and physical challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and a surge of interest in the practice is clear. Still, the benefits of meditation are not news to local therapists, practitioners and teachers. 

Ronya Banks, founder and lead teacher at Asheville Insight Meditation, has trained all over the world and practiced for over 30 years. 

Tom Ball, who runs the Asheville TM Center with his wife, Jeanne Ball, has been teaching since he was 21, over 50 years ago. 

Sarah Wood Vallely, author and mindfulness teacher, has been around meditation her entire life. “My parents were both meditators, and as a child I was going to ashrams,” she says. She began teaching meditation to children 20 years ago when she was an elementary and high school art teacher. “It was quite a phenomenon back then,” she recalls. “People who didn’t have children came to my classes to see what I was doing because it was such a novel thing.” 

On the rise

While apps have made meditation more accessible recently, Tom Ball says he has seen a steady rise in interest in transcendental meditation over the last decade. He points to increased scientific research and real evidence of the benefits. “When I first started teaching in 1971, my teacher had one scientific study to point to,” he says. “Now there are over 800 studies in scientific journals on TM, which have really helped medical professionals and laypeople see it’s not just a woo-woo thing of imagining you’re a butterfly landing on a flower. There is real evidence of benefits.”