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Ascesis is the voluntary exercise of self-discipline, from Greek askesis, from askein "to exercise"; rigorous self-denial and active self-restraint; the act of denying yourself; controlling your impulses; usually for some purpose, to fulfill some goal.

Asceticism involves self-control, self-denial, self-discipline; also in religion ascetical methods and practices of asceticism may include extremes of severe self-denial, as forms of penance or as devotion, for the purpose of overcoming slavery to bodily passions, or adopted as an expression of contempt for or rejection of the primacy or reality of bodily material existence, emphasizing the ephemeral, transitory, impermanent nature of temporary (temporal "time-conditioned", contingent) physical life and existence, sometimes to express the belief that matter is an illusion; sometimes practiced as a form of inducing a mystical state.

The Greek philosophy of Stoicism proposed by Zeno of Citium is an ascetical approach to life, intended to free the individual from the slavery of addiction to licentious sensuality; opposed by the philosophy of Hedonism championed by Epicurus in his doctrine of Epicureanism.

Both Buddhism in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path and the Epistles of Paul in the Christian New Testament (e.g. Colossians 2:8-23) warn against extremes of ascetical practice which may in reality be rooted in motives of Pride and Elitism, in the mistaken belief that such measures express genuine spirituality in contrast to the majority of sinful and fallen humanity.