In certain branches of Hinduism, we do penance. There are roughly 3 main reasons, and the penances are many varied. Reason 1) atonement ... a soul recognises they did something wrong, and they want to make up for it ... take on the karma of it immediately or soon Reason 2) clearing the way ... intuition says something heavy is coming your way, so you pre-pay, and pray that obstacles are cleared Reason 3) the soul wants something so plays 'let's make a deal' making a vow to perform a particular penance, if whatever they want comes to fruition. Health of a relative is common. Penances ... silence vows, prostrations, walking yathras, fasting, (there are many definitions for it, from absolutely nothing to abstaining from certain foods only, or certain times) extra japa, firewalking, kavadi (google it) , and more. It's up to the individual what they decide to do, but there is always a sense of building character, building self-discipline, strengthening willpower. I'd be interested in penances, if any, from other religions. Thanks.