Asos is facing backlash from yoga teachers who say its models are performing poses incorrectly and dangerously in product images

yoga asos emily harding

  • Yoga teachers are calling out Asos for the images used to advertise its yoga collection.
  • Emily Harding and Kallie Schut told Insider that various poses seen in the online images promote poor form that could be dangerous.
  • Harding and Schut also say the images contribute to the cultural appropriation of yoga, capitalizing on its popularity for financial gain.
  • Asos did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Yoga teachers are calling out Asos for its "irresponsible" yoga images.

The global fashion site currently has 256 items of clothing in its "Women's Activewear: Yoga Pants & Clothing" section, but in many of the photos, the women modeling the clothes are performing positions incorrectly and potentially dangerously, London-based yoga teacher and founder of The Yeh Yoga Co. Emily Harding told Insider.

Harding also believes Asos is capitalizing on yoga's popularity for financial gain, without giving any thought to people's safety or the history of yoga.

Kallie Schut, a yoga teacher with Indian heritage, told Insider that this widespread cultural appropriation in the industry devalues yoga.

Models are pictured performing yoga poses incorrectly

A tree pose should be performed with the foot on either the inner thigh or calf, not the knee.

Harding was browsing Asos' yoga-wear section looking for a particular brand, and was taken aback by the photos she saw.

"I couldn't stop scrolling because what I saw horrified me so much," Harding told Insider. "I thought, 'If I see one more dangerous tree pose, I'm going to lose it, I'll throw my phone out of the window.'"

The tree pose in yoga involves placing the sole of one foot on either the inner calf or upper thigh of the opposite leg, but crucially, instructors always stress that you should pick either of those positions and never place the foot on the inside of the knee. 

"You shouldn't put your foot right on the knee, especially beginners, because you might be tempted to push sideways on the knee, which is of course not how the knee wants to move," Harding said.

Promoting incorrect form could lead to injury

While yoga is all about moving in ways that feel good for your body and modifying poses accordingly, Harding was shocked by various incorrect positions she saw on the fast fashion site, such as a downward dog, cobra, and warrior two, which she believes could be harmful.

Harding pointed to two images of a "slightly dangerous" cobra pose with "really poor alignment."

A cobra pose seen twice on Asos.

"She's shrugging the shoulders all the way up to the ears, there's lots of tension in the neck and the shoulders, and then this real dumping of the weight in the lower back," Harding said. "There's been no effort to open up through the upper chest and use the strength in the arms and shoulders. That's how you exacerbate imbalances in the body over time."

Harding also highlighted a problematic downward facing dog, below left.

An uncomfortable looking downward dog and quad stretch, which should be performed with the knees together.

"It looks very uncomfortable," she said. "If someone saw that and it was their only understanding of a down dog, and then they're practicing at home — particularly in a pandemic where you now don't have a yoga teacher helping to protect you — someone with very tight hamstrings might try to put their heels on the ground and potentially injure themselves if they're holding it for a particularly long period of time."

Harding accepts that the photo may in fact be of someone just stretching or mid-way through a walkout, but said it's "certainly not a yoga pose."

Harding says Asos is 'using yoga for commercial gain'

ASOS' photos suggest you need to look very polished for yoga, which isn't the case, Harding said.

The issue with Asos' photos is two-fold for Harding — as well as the potential for injury, the images further damage the already misconstrued image of yoga in the western world.

"Firstly, it's potentially dangerous because it's encouraging incorrect poses where people can injure themselves," Harding said. "And secondly, it's disrespectful to what yoga actually is. They're using yoga for commercial gain without giving any thought to the history, just making vague shapes that they've probably seen on Instagram from someone else who also didn't know what they were doing."

Harding believes it conveys the impression that "yoga is an aesthetic to be bought into, it's only available to the very young, very polished, and you have to wear a full face of makeup and jewelry. It alienates people who don't look like these models."

Asos has been praised before for not retouching models and using a diverse range of body shapes and sizes, but Harding believes more needs to be done.

Emily Harding is the founder of The Yeh Yoga Co.
Emily Harding

The images point to a wider cultural appropriation problem in the industry

"Yoga is a sacred wisdom tradition indigenous to India," Kallie Schut, a yoga teacher with Indian heritage, culture advocate, and founding member of the UK Yoga Teachers Union, told Insider. "During British colonialism, practices which threatened the hegemonic power of the ruling class were brutally suppressed."

Schut said that only palatable, watered down elements of yoga such as gymnastic poses were featured in the western world.

Kallie Schut is a yoga teacher calling for a greater spotlight on South Asian heritage instructors.
Kallie Schut

"When poses are inaccurately modeled, not only is there a risk of injury, but through misrepresentation, there is a devaluation of the practice," Schut said. "Yoga has been extracted, exploited, and commodified in the west and reduced to a physical exercise."

She believes the yoga industry in the western world needs greater awareness of the power dynamics around race and culture, cultural appropriation, and the harm it can cause.

Harding echoed this sentiment, saying that most people in the western world don't realize they're seeing a white-washed, appropriated version of yoga that is seen as something to do for fitness.

Harding said she finds it very frustrating that brands such as Asos have large yoga sections with no one qualified in that area overseeing it, taking care of the models performing the poses, and thinking about the message they are sending to people.

"They've created a full section to capitalize on the growing popularity of yoga without taking any time to make sure that what they are doing is safe, healthy, and right," she said.

Asos did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

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