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Meditate for Free with the Oak App

I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans, which documents the habits of highly successful people, and one of the many things they have in common (80% or so) is daily meditation. I meditated as a teenager when I dabbled in Zen Buddhism, but that was an increasingly long time ago. I decided if that many high-performing people were meditating, it was worth giving it another shot.

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of meditation, including improved mental and physical health, lower blood pressure, and even improvements to your genes. Alas, sample sizes have been small or methodologies questionable, but it seems to be working for me. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed increased levels of focus and productivity and an improved ability to handle stressful situations. If I miss a day, I feel like I’m meandering through a fog.

The Elephants in the Room: Calm and Headspace

Ferriss recommends the apps Calm and Headspace in the book. They sounded familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.

Both apps require an annual subscription fee, so I tested their free trials. They were fine, and I started seeing improvements in my focus and mental clarity in a few days. However, it felt silly paying an annual subscription fee to meditate—it’s just someone talking. What exactly are you paying for? As much as anything else, it seems to be celebrity meditations from the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and Matthew McConaughey.

It turns out that I find celebrity voices distracting. I tried Calm’s meditation intended to help you get back to sleep, narrated by Jerome Flynn, who you may recognize as Bronn from Game of Thrones. So here I am at 4 AM, trying to get to sleep and thinking questions like:

  • What happened to his character in Game of Thrones?
  • Is he really into meditation, or is he struggling to find roles now?
  • How much does an actor make for doing these meditations?
  • What part of the UK is he from?

Lovely voice but entirely too familiar. Needless to say, I didn’t get back to sleep.

I liked the guided meditations but didn’t see a compelling reason to pay. Eventually, I remembered why these apps rang a bell: Timothy Buck wrote about Headspace for TidBITS a few years ago (see “Headspace: A Guided Meditation Companion,” 14 October 2019).

I looked up that old article and saw that readers had suggested Oak as a free alternative. It’s now my only meditation app, and I think it’s all most people need.

What Oak Offers

Oak has a small set of both guided and unguided meditations:

  • Mindful (a simple meditation to focus on your breath)
  • Loving Kindness (in which you think of people and wish them happiness, health, and peace)
  • Unguided

Along with a few short breathing exercises:

  • Deep Calm
  • Box
  • Awake

And a couple of routines to help you fall asleep:

  • Relaxing Sounds
  • Guided Breath

Each meditation has extensive customization options: duration, male or female instructor, background sounds, and whether or not you have a warmup.

As someone with three kids and thus a noisy house, I appreciate the large library of background sounds, which includes things like cave water, fireplace, rain, Tibetan “om,” and simple white noise. They’re also helpful when trying to fall asleep because they help drown out the noise of your brain. You can adjust the volume of the instructor’s voice and the background sound separately.

Oak meditation app

Finally, you can enable a setting to link Oak to Apple Health, which updates your Mindful Minutes metric in the Health app.

Once you’ve configured everything the way you want it—Oak remembers your choices for next time—tap Begin Meditation, and you’re off. There’s nothing more to it, nor should there be.

What Oak Lacks

Oak isn’t as full-featured as Calm and Headspace. The main thing you miss with Oak is variety. Calm and Headspace offer new meditations daily with different lessons or things to think about. I find those distracting. I just want a few minutes to clear my head, not be inundated with a message of the day. But if you need that novelty to keep you coming back, you may soon grow bored with Oak.

Calm and Headspace also offer meditations for specific situations, while Oak doesn’t. I found these situational meditations akin to the dozens of ketchup options that all taste the same. Fundamentally, meditation is about breathing and clearing your mind, not addressing specific problems.

And, of course, Oak doesn’t have any celebrity voices. Sorry, famous people, I just don’t find you relaxing.

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Comments About Meditate for Free with the Oak App

Notable Replies

  1. For years my favorite free meditation app is Insight Timer. Besides guided meditations, one can choose from over 130,000 different types of tracks such as music, discourses, sounds, and of course timers with selectable sounds. Below are some of Insight Timer’s features listed on its App Store description:

    • Apps of the Year Winner - TIME magazine
      and Womens Health
    • More time is spent meditating on Insight
      Timer than all other meditation apps *
    • Happiest App in the World - Tristan Harris *

    The number 1 free meditation app. Guided
    meditations and talks led by the world’s top
    meditation and mindfulness experts,
    neuroscientists, psychologists and teachers
    from Stanford, Harvard, the University of
    Oxford and more. Music tracks from world-
    renowned artists. Join millions learning to
    meditate on Insight Timer to help calm the
    mind, reduce anxiety, manage stress, sleep
    deeply and improve happiness.

    With 80+ new free guided meditations added
    daily, more meditation is practiced on Insight
    Timer than anywhere else. Great for both
    beginners and experienced practitioners.

    FREE FEATURES:

    • Thousands of guided meditations
    • Select by time for short meditations when
      on the go, helping you to build a simple daily
      habit
    • Thousands of music tracks and ambient
      sounds to calm the mind, focus, sleep better
      and relax
    • The world’s most popular meditation Timer
  2. I started meditating a couple of years ago and found Oak an excellent place to start. However, I wanted more guidance and variety. Someone recommended a free app called Medito, which I have used nearly daily. Medito includes a beginner course to introduce mindfulness concepts. I particularly liked the 30-day challenge, which led me to daily meditation. The app is produced by a non-profit foundation and is free, although donations are accepted. Included are packs of guided meditations on topics such as compassion, gratitude, and open awareness. All in all, Medito has a lot to offer for both beginners and more practiced meditators.

  3. Thanks for this suggestion. I had a free Calm subscription from my HMO, but I did not care for the app. Like you, I found Oak to be a bit too basic. Medito looks to be the Goldilocks solution (just right!) for me.

  4. I subscribe to 10% Happier. Lots of content, teachers from many different backgrounds. Typical format is a short lesson followed by a guided meditation. Lessons can be about the science behind meditation, how to apply it to your daily life, common reasons people get stuck or discouraged, interviews, etc. There are themed courses and standalone lessons, and of course guided meditations with no lesson.

    Some of the teachers have been doing it a long time, and it shows.

    It’s not free unfortunately. However, if you are on a budget you could check our their free email newsletter, and podcast. They also offer a discount for mental health professionals.

    Medito sounds very interesting; I might take a look at that.

  5. I used Insight Timer for years. I liked being able to fairly-closely replicate the beginning and ending bowl gong sequence used at the Zen center where I practiced for several years. That’s all I wanted from a meditation app.

    I deleted it as it got bloated and personality-oriented, the interface became cluttered (focusing too much on virtual community), and it became subscription-ware. To me, all of this detracts from meditation and mindfulness and verges on what Chogyam Trungpa called spiritual materialism.

    Now, I just use the iOS timer. Good enough.

    I realize guided meditations and talks can be helpful, especially for beginners and for those who don’t have a teacher in town. But if you do have a good local teacher, nothing really beats in-person talks and meditating in a room with others.

  6. Breathing Zone is not quite a meditation app, but it does allow you to manage your breathing rate, ie, slowing it down to slow yourself down which has similar effects.

  7. I downloaded Oak and find it a nice app to use. Thanks Josh.

    For those of a Christian persuasion, I have used the Pray As You Go app for several years. It is based on the lectionary readings for each given day, and has a meditation/prayer focus. Very excellent resource.

    Appreciate the informed recommendations you all have made on this thread! Thanks!

  8. Before “there’s an app for that” including meditation, there’s a longtime website for decades of mental health from UCLA, including diverse free meditation media. Add this resource to the variety of products mentioned here in this timely and relevant article by @jcenters

    https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/default.cfm

  9. @scstr Thank you for that. It is a great site. I will include it in my “toolkit” where I keep important resources for people!

  10. Josh, as a current, satisfied user of Oak, how would you characterize their in-app purchases? Have you used them? If so, added value provide worth the cost? Are they one off purchases or subscription?

    I know I can see what they are by checking in the App Store or using the app but I’m interested in your (generally wise) thoughts prior!

    Edit: I just should’ve looked first. There’s one in-app purchase. Course: Mantra Meditation. Price: $0.00

    Weird.

    Thanks a lot for recommending.

  11. Yeah, they ruined Insight Timer. I thought I’d tried all the meditation apps in existence, but didn’t know about Medito or Oak. My ratings for stuff I’ve used:
    – Insight Timer: 3/10 (See above, got ruined with clutter and cost)
    – 10 Percent Happier: 5/10 Too pushy, too biased (takes positions on divisive social issues, I prefer no comment/neutrality in a meditation app)
    – Headspace: 7/10 Been using it for just under a year, but it’s starting to get pushy on some social/political issues, too. Not going to renew. Really love the “Sleepcasts” though. Beautiful stories, well read.
    – Waking Up. (Sam Harris) 7/10 Lots of really interesting content if you’re into exploring consciousness in a way that gels with Harris’s interest, alot of which I am. But you can sure get too much of Sam. His long form interviews crack me up the way he often does as much if not more talking than the interviewee. Expensive, but he gives it for free if you ask/can’t afford it.
    – Buddhify. 7/10. It’s not particularly relevant to meditation, but the wheel interface is totally cool. I love playing with it, instead of meditating. Good content. When I got it, it was a one-off cost on the app store which I now can’t remember, but of course now it has a membership option so you get more stuff. Headed down the path toward…is there a word for it when low-cost awesome apps add these pricey, cluttered tiers and then leave us cheapskates to rot?
    – Plum Village. 7.5/10 I will automatically rate free apps higher. This free app, as it says, is composed of “a l ibrary of digital mindfulness content from Plum Village in France…in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.” I love his teachings, but it can be hard because of his thick accent, so you have to concentrate. (Though, of course, there are MANY contributors to the app, not just Thay.)

    – Dhamma Seed. 7/10 Free. Basic, with lots and lots of talks and meditations, but not the best to navigate.

    After all that, yeah, I do actually meditate daily…but I realise I have a bit of a bad meditation app habit I need to break. There must be an app for that…

  12. With the Calm sleep stories, I’ve found the best way to use them is to turn the volume way down, so the narrative can’t be understood. Just let the sonorous tones of the professional actors blur into a pleasant background noise. If I’m able to hear what they’re saying, I listen to the story, and that’s the opposite effect what’s needed.

  13. Downloaded OAK and love it for simplicity and ease of use. Thank you for the reference. Best, Patrick

  14. Oak seems to have disappeared from the App Store. I just downloaded it on 9/27 and recommended it to a friend, and now it says something about “not available in your location”. Any ideas?

  15. Ray

    It may be going through an update, but it does not show it for me, either.

    The website is still active and pointing to the App Store.

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