The term ashram (Sanskrit: आश्रम, Sanskrit pronunciation: [aːɕɽɐmɐ]) comes from the Sanskrit root śram- (श्रम्) ('to toil'). According to S. S. Chandra, the term means "a step in the journey of life". In contrast, according to George Weckman, the term ashram connotes a place where one strives towards a goal in a disciplined manner. Such a goal could be ascetic, spiritual, yogic or any other.
An ashram would traditionally, but not necessarily in contemporary times, be located far from human habitation, in forests or mountainous regions, amidst refreshing natural surroundings conducive to spiritual instruction and meditation. The residents of an ashram regularly performed spiritual and physical exercises, such as the various forms of yoga. Other sacrifices and penances, such as yajnas, were also performed. Many ashrams also served as gurukulas, residential schools for children under the guru-shishya tradition.
Sometimes, the goal of a pilgrimage to the ashram was not tranquility, but instruction in some art, especially warfare. In the Ramayana, the princes of ancient Ayodhya, Rama and Lakshmana, go to Vishvamitra's ashram to protect his yajnas from being defiled by emissary-demons of Ravana. After they prove their mettle, the princes receive martial instruction from the sage, especially in the use of divine weapons. In the Mahabharata, Krishna, in his youth, goes to the ashram of Sandipani to gain knowledge of both intellectual and spiritual matters.
A number of ashrams have been established outside India. Typically, these ashrams are connected to Indian lineages, focus on imparting Yoga-related teachings, often in residential retreats, and are headed by spiritual teachers (Indians or Western).