Sunbird or Swimming Prep: Support Your Spine and Strengthen Your Core

The yoga pose, Sunbird, is also known as Parsva Balasana, Chakorasana, Chakoravakasana, and Chakravakasana. I’m not sure why there is such a discrepancy in the Sanskrit name for Sunbird, but it seems that many people have adopted the English name, Sunbird, and so will I. In STOTT PILATES, we use Sunbird as a modification for the Pilates exercise Swimming.

Regardless of what you call it, Sunbird is a wonderful way to develop your core strength by lifting levers against gravity. Simply put, raising your arms and legs creates more challenge for spinal stabilizers and more ab work. If you’ve got low back pain, this is a great exercise for you!


  1. Begin on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Make sure your fingers are spread. This is the same position you come in to for Cat pose.
  2. Make sure you have a neutral curve to your spine and that your shoulder blades are gliding down your back away from your ears.
  3. Draw your belly button to your spine, providing support for your lumbar spine (low back).
  4. Keeping your abdominal engagement, inhale in to the sides of your ribs and extend your right leg. Flex your foot and keep your toes on the floor.
  5. As you exhale, lift your right leg by using your glutes. Only let your leg lift as high as you can maintain complete stability with the rest of your body. (Watch for letting the abs drop or sinking in to the shoulders.) The leg should never lift higher than your glutes.
  6. Engage your adductors (inner thighs) to make sure your leg is not drifting or rotated to the side.
  7. Inhale and slide your left arm straight in front of your left shoulder with the palm facing the midline of the body.
  8. Sunbird, swimming prepExhale and lift the arm. Allow the shoulder blade to slide down and out to the side so the arm can lift without the shoulder coming by the ear.
  9. Hold here and breathe at least 5 slow breaths.
  10. Inhale, then exhale and lower the arm and leg at the same time. Tap down with the toes and fingers, then slide back to starting position.
  11. Do the other side.
  12. You should do each side at least twice.

Sunbird as a Swimming Prep

  1. Complete steps 1-8.
  2. In Pilates, you decide how long you hold. Sometimes, I cue: Inhale, reach the leg. Exhale, lift. Inhale, reach the arm. Exhale, lift. Inhale, hold. Exhale, hold. Inhale, hold. Exhale, lower. However, you can cue this faster or slower. It’s really up to whoever is teaching as to how quickly or slowly this will go. Normally, if you’re moving quickly, there will be more repetitions. There could be as many as 10 repetitions of this, but there should be fewer if your holds are longer.
  3. Make sure to alternate sides.

Sunbird Video

Here is a video for my friends who learn visually. If you like the video, please give it a thumb’s up.

What do you like best about Sunbird? Let us know in the comments section below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.