I understand the Chakras to be a sort of multi-level skeleton for consciousness intertwining with our physical, emotional (astral) and mental (causal) bodies. Traditions I have studied use the word “bodies” to describe our connections to these realms of human experience. If “I” am something other than my physical body, then why not consider that there may be other “bodies” through which my “essence” lives? Other traditions describe similar layers. For instance, Gurdjieff described humans as “three brained” beings. The chakras represent realms in which all 3 bodies are involved, dealing with different sets of issues. The lower chakras correspond roughly with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
The first chakra deals with maintaining a physical existence, staying alive.
The second chakra deals with relationships, and maintaining the species.
The third chakra is the realm of social interaction, power relationships.
The fourth chakra opens the possibility to unconditioned love’s expression.
The fifth chakra is sometimes represented as connected with “the void”, also with the “inner guru”, an opening to a deep wellspring of understanding.
The sixth chakra opens the possibility of transcending dualities.
The seventh chakra is the realm of Samadhi, subject of a separate post.
One of my teachers, Shyam Bhatnagar, described each of the chakras as having within it its own version of each of the seven chakras. “The 7th in the 3rd” refers to the energy of the 7th chakra as expressed through the 3rd chakra.
We mature through the chakras at a rate of about 6 (women) or 7 (men) years per chakra. So at age 18/21, we’re moving into development of the 4th chakra. The first year of life is different – energy coming down one channel, whereas that energy moves up another channel for the rest of one’s years. These channels are ida and pingala, on either side of the central sushumna channel. Read Shyam-ji’s book for more about chakras and channels.