It appears that asceticism has always played a role in societies where spiritual life was organised and ritualised, to different degrees and in various ways depending on civilisations and times.
Etymologically, the term “asceticism” comes from the Greek askesis, which simply means “exercise”. In Ancient Greece, it applied to the exercises and discipline required of athletes. This is precisely what all forms of asceticism have in common: to impose a discipline onto oneself and thus exert one’s willpower against certain natural bodily tendencies. In India, for example, the practice of asceticism includes bodily exercises designed to control the body, breathing exercises to control both the body and the mind, as well as various fasting and meditation techniques.